2014 Ford Explorer Limited AWD SUV (3.5L V6 FFV AWD 6-speed Automatic)
Driven On 2/11/2014
The eternally popular Ford Explorer falls short of benchmark status in the highly competitive 3-row family SUV segment. Liabilities include cumbersome visibility, an arduous trek to the tight 3rd row, modest mpg and so-so warranty terms. But you'll appreciate the three engine choices, upscale cabin and comfy ride.
PerformanceAcceleration is just so-so with the V6 or turbocharged 4-cylinder, while the 365-hp twin-turbo V6 offers V8-like thrust. Handling and braking, though dependant on tire selection, are confident. Steering and towing are strong suits.
Mid-pack acceleration (0-60 mph in 8.4 sec.) with the 290-hp V6 AWD. The 240-hp turbo 4-cyl. is one second slower.
Confident and firm pedal with intuitive responses, but emergency stops are highly dependent on tire selection. We recorded a panic stop of 118 feet from 60 mph with this V6 test model.
Isolated on-center feel going down the highway but good response and precision when cornering. Nice and light in parking situations.
As with braking, grip varies with tire selection and so does confidence in corners. We found the Limited AWD model to be reassuring and capable for its size.
Despite good individual qualities, the Explorer somehow manages to feel large and distant from its driver. It's hard to know where the corners are, which makes it difficult to park.
Properly equipped V6s can tow up to 5,000 pounds, enough for a boat or off-road vehicle. Electronic trailer-sway control is a worthwhile differentiating feature.
The AWD models feature a knob (and 4 terrain settings) that uses brakes to route power to the most effective wheel, but it's not true 4WD with low gearing. Modest ground clearance.
ComfortAdequate seating for the first two rows, but things fall well short back in the third row. Ride comfort and quietness, however, are quite good for its class, though still below segment leaders.
The Limited's heated front seats are large and offer plenty of adjustability. The second row (also heated on Ltd.) has similar qualities, but the third row has severely cramped leg room.
In most situations the Explorer's ride is perfectly comfy, better than most. We did notice some tire thumping on abrupt seams and occasional freeway "busy-ness."
A standout quality of the Explorer is how hushed the cabin is. All of the engines are remarkably quiet (even while accelerating) and wind/road noise are well muted.
InteriorBecause of difficult access to its cramped third row, modest cargo room in any configuration and problematic visibility, the Explorer falls short in many of the categories people shopping for a 3-row SUV care about.
Recent improvements to the MyFord Touch infotainment system and the center stack's virtual "buttons" have greatly improved response time. However, rotary knobs would still work better.
First and second rows are easily accessed with wide doors, reasonable step-in and seat height, but access to the third row is particularly arduous and challenging, even for kids.
There's an unusual abundance of room in the front row that decreases noticeably with each successive row behind.
Despite optional aids (rear camera, automated parking, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, etc.), the Explorer is quite large and it's difficult to judge where its borders are.
At 21 cu-ft with all seats occupied, luggage room is mid-pack within the class. Seats-folded max cargo grows to 81 cu-ft, which is much smaller than the competition.
ValueThe Explorer spans a price range of $30K-$42K. Our one-option Limited cost $46,420. Impressive interior quality and high-tech features only go so far to offset mediocre fuel economy and warranty terms.
Build Quality (vs. $)
Ford vehicles often feel more European in terms of build quality and material choices, and the Explorer follows this trend. Solid, substantial, with good attention to detail.
The Explorer matches similarly priced competition item for item (Bluetooth, parking aids, leather, etc.), but has pricey packages for navgation, power liftgate and blind-spot monitor.
The Explorer is priced fairly. Within its range, there are some larger and/or V8 powered SUVs, and also some smaller, sportier imports.
On our test loop, we managed to squeak out slightly better than 20 mpg, beating the EPA's 19 mpg Combined (17 City/23 Highway) estimate.
Like its competition, the Explorer offers a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, but only a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty (others go up to 100,000 miles).
Ford doesn't currently offer a free scheduled maintenance program for the Explorer, though you get roadside assistance for 5 years/60,000 miles.
Fun To DriveFeeling every inch of width and height, both while driving and parking, the Explorer isn't what we'd call fun to drive. It beckons the minivan-averse crowd, yet fails to achieve anywhere near the utility of the sliding-door types.
Unlike some other large SUVs that drive smaller than they are, the Explorer feels, in fact, even larger than it is. Never a good trait. Parking can be a challenge.
Like some other minivans disguised as SUVs, the Explorer looks the part and largely succeeds, although it falls short in terms of cargo and people-carrying capabilities.
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