2012 Ford Explorer XLT EcoBoost: Gets a Passing Mark for Road-Tripability
May 23, 2012
My decision to drive our long-term 2012 Ford Explorer to La Jolla, California, and back last Saturday had as much to do with my wanting to try something new as it did with the vehicle's availability. My inclination is usually to take something like the Mazda 3 or Sonic on these adventures, but when I thought about how many errands I had to run after the trip, I realized it was going to be a 300-mile day on L.A. freeways and I just wanted something cushier.
Our Explorer filled the bill. Yeah, there were only two of us most of the time (though we also carried a set of parents for a couple hours), but man was it comfortable.
I like the driver seat a whole lot. It's well shaped and supportive. The driving position is also good -- well, good considering the Explorer's tall hood and large D-pillars limit visibility. My only complaint about the seating is that I bumped my knee on the steering column trim a couple times while getting in and out of the Ford -- most likely, that's a consequence of my decision to crank up the seat height to get a better view over the hood.
Ride quality is also very comfortable -- as it should be on a family crossover with P245/60R18 all-season tires.
But you pay a price for the compliance. The Explorer doesn't feel nearly as steady through corners as some of the minivans that have passed through our fleet recently (Sienna, Odyssey). I was a little put off by the amount of body roll around cloverleaf ramps. It still feels better than the older, truck-based Explorers, but compared with the current population of 7-passenger crossovers, it's not so great. This thing may share a platform with the Flex, but it feels like a different team of chassis engineers did the tuning. I really like the steering, though. It feels accurate at highway speeds and in parking lots.
Acceleration is adequate with the EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Full-throttle it up an entrance ramp and you'll arrive at 65 mph in a reasonable amount of time. Trouble is, when you need to pass, the torque just isn't there regardless of the rating on this engine. The six-speed automatic isn't lighting-quick with downshifts, either.
I can see how this drivetrain would work well in a lighter vehicle like the 2013 Escape, but in vehicles that are well past the two-ton mark, I'm not ready to advocate for getting a turbo inline-4 over a V6 -- unless it's a diesel.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in the Ford. I even liked the MyFord Touch interface; the menu system is logical to me and I appreciate how much information I can see on the screen at any one time (our Quest's nav-audio system shows you a lot of info, but Ford displays even more). My one complaint is the one you've heard over and over -- the touchscreen's glacial responses to finger input.
Fix that one thing (and eventually, our turn will come up and we will), and swap in the right engine, and I'd be pretty content in the Explorer.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 15,383 miles