Full 2014 Ford Explorer Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 Ford Explorer now has standard automatic headlights on all trim levels. Second-row heated seats are now standard on the Limited trim level.
The introduction of the Ford Explorer for 1991 helped cement the popularity of the sport-utility vehicle all across America. A rugged alternative to a station wagon, it was a perfect match for the times. Since then, the family SUV landscape has changed quite a bit, but the 2014 Ford Explorer has kept up with the times. Its combination of power, fuel economy and interior refinement makes it far more desirable for everyday use than previous versions.
Like all modern crossover SUVs, the Ford Explorer has adopted carlike unibody construction in lieu of older models' truck-based underpinnings. The advantages are many, as today's Explorer offers more interior space, better fuel economy and a more comfortable ride, all of which are desirable in a family vehicle. The Ford is also pretty upscale inside, with seating for up to seven passengers and a comprehensive list of convenience and safety features. The latter includes advanced options you won't find on many other similarly priced crossover SUVs, such as second-row seatbelt airbags as well as lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.
The standard 290-horsepower V6 will meet most buyers' needs, but the Explorer's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is a viable option, too. It actually costs extra to get this engine, but we've found it's still suitably powerful and its fuel economy numbers are best-in-class. In theory, the fuel savings will also pay for the engine upgrade in just a few years. On the performance side of the spectrum, there's the Explorer Sport model, which comes with a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that generates 365 hp. In addition to that potent engine, the Sport also comes with firmer suspension tuning and special interior and exterior trim details.
There are a few drawbacks to the 2014 Ford Explorer, depending on your priorities. Taller families may not be happy with the second- and third-row seating, which isn't as roomy as in other crossovers. It's the same with total cargo capacity. We're also not fond of the MyFord Touch interface's frequent glitches, or the way that the Explorer feels bigger behind the wheel than it really is -- even with all the available tech features onboard, it's not an easy vehicle to maneuver in tight spaces.
As such, it's a good idea to shop around a bit. Possible alternatives include the roomier 2014 Chevrolet Traverse and 2014 Mazda CX-9; the refined 2014 Dodge Durango, which also gives you more versatility for towing; or even the Explorer's more wagonlike sibling, the Ford Flex. If you're drawn to the upscale look and many comforts of the 2014 Ford Explorer, however, it still stands as a respectable choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Ford Explorer is a large crossover SUV available in base, XLT, Limited and Sport trim levels.
Standard equipment includes a V6 engine, 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, rear privacy glass, integrated blind-spot mirrors, roof rails, cruise control, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a 50/50-split third-row seat, a six-way power driver seat (manual recline), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The XLT adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, rear parking sensors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a keyless entry code pad, Bluetooth, Sync (Ford's voice-activated phone/entertainment interface), a six-way front passenger seat, satellite radio and a USB port.
With the XLT trim, Ford offers the Equipment Group 201A package that adds a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, a nine-speaker sound system and the Driver Connect package, which includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, MyFord Touch electronics controls (includes three configurable displays, two USB ports, SD card reader and audio/video input jacks) and upgraded Sync functionality. The 202A package includes all of the 201A equipment, plus leather upholstery, heated front seats and an eight-way power driver seat with power-adjustable lumbar.
The Limited bundles all of the above items and adds 20-inch wheels, heated outboard second-row seats, remote engine start, power-adjustable pedals with memory, a 110-volt power outlet and a 12-speaker Sony sound system with HD radio. Optional for the Limited is the 301A package, which includes a power liftgate, a power-folding operation for the third-row seat, an eight-way power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, a heated and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a navigation system. To this, the 302A package adds xenon headlamps, automatic high beams, an automatic parallel-parking system, lane-departure and lane-keeping assist, a blind-spot warning system and inflatable seatbelts for second-row outboard passengers. Adaptive cruise control with impeding frontal collision warning and brake priming is a stand-alone option.
The Explorer Sport is equipped similarly to the Limited, although it lacks the leather upholstery, 110-volt outlet and power-adjustable pedals. It also comes with different 20-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, front sport seats (with extra lateral bolstering) and unique interior and exterior trim details. The Sport's 401A package adds the power liftgate, navigation system, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, inflatable seatbelts, power-adjustable steering wheel and pedals, heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, driver seat memory, power front passenger seat and 110-volt outlet. The navigation system and adaptive cruise control can also be purchased as stand-alone options.
Some of the features in the XLT and Limited's optional packages can be added as individual options, too. These include a dual-panel sunroof, second-row captain's chairs and a rear seat entertainment system with dual headrest-mounted displays.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2014 Ford Explorers, except for the Sport, come standard with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 290 hp and 255 pound-feet of torque along with a six-speed automatic transmission. With this engine, you have your choice of front-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive (there is no low-range gearing). Four-wheel-drive models have Ford's Terrain Management System, a selectable four-mode system that optimizes traction electronically for different conditions. Hill descent control and hill start assist are also included.
In Edmunds testing, a 4WD Explorer Limited with the base V6 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, while a lighter 4WD XLT model was slightly quicker at 8.1 seconds -- these are average times for a large crossover SUV. A front-drive V6 Explorer returns an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined, also average for the class. Four-wheel drive lowers this to a still respectable 16/22/18.
Optional on all front-wheel-drive Ford Explorers is the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. It also uses the six-speed automatic transmission. In Edmunds testing, a four-cylinder-equipped Explorer went from zero to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, which is on the slow side for the class. Fuel economy, however, is best-in-class at 20/28/23.
The Explorer Sport is 4WD only, and it comes with a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine and the six-speed automatic. The turbo V6 is rated at 365 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.
Properly equipped, an Explorer with either of the V6 engines can tow 5,000 pounds.
Every 2014 Ford Explorer comes standard with stability and traction control, trailer sway control, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a front passenger knee airbag and MyKey, which allows parents to specify limits for vehicle speed and stereo volume. The Explorer's stability control system also includes Ford's Curve Control, which can monitor speed carried into a corner and decelerate if necessary.
Rear parking sensors are standard on all but the base Explorer. A rearview camera is optional for the XLT and standard on the Limited. The Limited can also be had with impending frontal collision warning and brake priming (bundled with the adaptive cruise control), lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, a blind-spot warning system and inflatable seatbelts for second-row outboard passengers.
In Edmunds brake testing, both the 4WD Explorer XLT and Limited V6 stopped from 60 mph in 118 feet -- a good performance for a large crossover SUV. Meanwhile, the four-cylinder Explorer XLT did it in 130 feet, which is just average for this class.
In government crash tests, the Explorer earned a five-star rating (out of a possible five) for overall crash protection, with five stars for total front-impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety similarly gave its top score of "Good" for the Explorer's performance in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. Its seatbelts and head restraints also earned a "Good" rating for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
Especially considering the price, the Explorer's interior is pleasantly upscale. Materials quality is attractive and luxurious, with a soft-touch dashboard and precise-feeling controls. The front seats are very supportive, too.
The optional MyFord Touch interface contributes to the premium vibe, as it adds a high-resolution display screen (plus two additional screens for the gauge cluster) and touch-sensitive audio and climate "buttons." We've never been very fond of this system, but in our tests of the 2014 Explorer, Ford's latest improvements to MyFord Touch have made a noticeable difference. While it's still not the easiest touchscreen interface to use, the previous glitches and slow response times have been banished. As before, we also like how MyFord Touch complements the voice-activated Sync system.
The Explorer has 80 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, making it less spacious than the Dodge Durango and well below the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. The third row is somewhat cramped and will only really work for children. Families with small children might also be disappointed with the Explorer's second-row seats, as there's not as much room to install rear-facing child safety seats -- something you'd expect to do with ease in a vehicle of this size. And while the Explorer has the commanding ride height expected in an SUV, its thick roof pillars and tall dash limit outward visibility. Even when you equip all the available parking aids, it's a handful in tight spaces.
The 2014 Ford Explorer rides very smoothly on the highway, with good composure that gets only a little busier with the Limited model's 20-inch wheels over broken pavement. As such, Ford's crossover SUV is enjoyable on longer drives. It handles securely in typical driving situations, but overall, it feels larger and less maneuverable than similarly sized rivals.
The same is true of the Explorer Sport, but thanks to its sport-tuned suspension and steering, it reacts more quickly to inputs and generally imparts greater driver confidence. And while the Sport gives up a bit of that cushy ride quality, the ride is still well within the realm of acceptability for this class of vehicle.
The Sport also comes with the turbocharged V6, which offers V8-like acceleration. But the reality is that the base V6 is powerful enough in most situations. And don't be quick to dismiss the idea of a four-cylinder powering this none-too-small SUV. It's not as strong as the V6s, but it provides adequate acceleration for daily use and, of course, better fuel mileage than you'd get with the V6.