2017 Ford Escape

2017 Ford Explorer SUV Review

Ford's popular three-row Explorer crossover is refined, versatile and suitable for many needs.
4.5 star edmunds overall rating
author
by Jason Kavanagh
Edmunds Editor

Available with plenty of features and three distinctly different engines, the 2017 Ford Explorer has a lot to offer if you're shopping for a three-row crossover SUV. Its outstanding quietness and quality cabin trimmings elevate this practical do-all crossover to the front of the segment.

A household name among American carbuyers, the Ford Explorer has evolved from its long-ago roots as a body-on-frame SUV into the comprehensively modern three-row crossover it is today. Depending on trim level and options (and how deep your pockets are), it can be downright luxurious. Our preference for the Sport arises from the "drives big" nature of other non-Sport trim levels — though comfortable, the soft suspension and numb steering of non-Sport models make their driving experience oddly ponderous.

Aside from that, though, there is an awful lot to credit to the Explorer. You can configure an Explorer that keeps things relatively basic, or you can go all-in on luxury. Versatility is a strong suit, too. You have your choice of three engines. You can get it with a second-row bench or captain's chairs and option the second and/or third row with power-folding functionality. Lots of cargo space is standard.



what's new

For 2017, the Ford Explorer is mechanically and visually unchanged save for a new appearance package (XLT Sport Appearance package) and modest reshuffling of the availability of a few features. Ford's latest Sync 3 infotainment system is available this year, replacing the previous MyFord Touch system.

we recommend

Our favorite version of the 2017 Ford Explorer is easily the Sport. It eradicates the ponderousness of non-Sport versions while still maintaining excellent ride composure. The Sport doesn't compromise the Explorer's quiet demeanor either, despite its relatively low-profile 20-inch wheels. On top of that, its EcoBoost V6 is plenty powerful, though fuel economy could be better. Summer tires are optional on Sport models, and we recommend matching the tires to the season whenever possible — summer tires in rainy or dry conditions and dedicated winter tires when there's snow on the ground.

trim levels & features

The 2017 Ford Explorer seats six or seven passengers, depending on how you equip it. There are five trim levels: base, XLT, Limited, Sport and Platinum. Three engines are available, and all models are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. The Sport and Platinum have all-wheel drive only, while Base, XLT and Limited models are available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Base Explorers have the basics covered, but going up one notch to the XLT gets you a few extra features plus access to more desirable options. The Limited and Sport have similar features, while the Platinum tops off the Explorer line as the fully loaded trim.

Entry-level base models have the basics covered with their 3.5-liter V6 (290 horsepower, 255 pound-feet of torque), 18-inch wheels, rearview camera, cruise control, rear climate controls, a 60/40-split second-row seat, 50/50-split third-row seat, an eight-way power driver seat (with manual recline), a 4.2-inch dashboard display screen, Sync (Ford's voice-activated phone and entertainment interface), Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system.

Going up one notch to the XLT trim adds a few features as standard, but the real draw is that it grants access to desirable options that aren't offered on base variants. We expect many buyers will find their needs met by an XLT with a few extra options added.

Base and XLT trims also offer an optional turbocharged 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (280 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque) engine. It's more fuel-efficient than the regular V6, but depending on how you drive, you might not realize a whole lot of savings. The V6 is our preferred choice of the two.

Limited models come with the turbo four-cylinder engine as standard (the V6 is optional) and add more comfort and convenience items such as leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, power-adjustable pedals, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, an 8-inch touchscreen display with the new Sync 3 interface, a nine-speaker sound system and power-folding third-row seats.

It's nice, but we prefer the more substantive changes ushered in by the Sport variant. It has most of the Limited's features but comes with a gutsy turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 (365 hp, 360 lb-ft of torque) and sport-oriented suspension tuning.

Likewise, range-topping Platinum trim levels are offered solely with the turbo V6 but not the unique suspension and steering tuning of Sport models. Platinum variants make standard the features offered as options on lesser trim levels. The result is the kitchen sink of comfort and driver assistance features to suit the most well-heeled buyers. Highlights include a panoramic sunroof, a parking assistance system, adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and a 12-speaker Sony audio system. For the Platinum, a rear-seat entertainment system and power-folding second-row captain's chairs are optional.

trim tested

Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2016 Ford Explorer Sport (3.5L turbo V6; AWD; 6-speed automatic).

NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current Explorer has received only revisions. Our findings remain broadly applicable to this year's Explorer.

Edmunds Scorecard

Overall4.5 / 5.0

Driving

5.0 / 5.0

Acceleration5.0 / 5.0
Braking4.5 / 5.0
Steering5.0 / 5.0
Handling5.0 / 5.0
Drivability4.0 / 5.0

Comfort

4.5 / 5.0

Seat comfort4.0 / 5.0
Ride comfort4.0 / 5.0
Noise & vibration4.0 / 5.0

Interior

3.5 / 5.0

Ease of use3.5 / 5.0
Getting in/getting out4.0 / 5.0
Driving position3.5 / 5.0
Roominess3.5 / 5.0
Visibility3.0 / 5.0
Quality4.5 / 5.0

Utility

3.5 / 5.0

Small-item storage3.5 / 5.0
Cargo space3.0 / 5.0

driving

edmunds rating
Unlike other models dubbed "Sport," the 2017 Explorer Sport is indeed sporty, thanks to its turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, stiffer suspension tuning, quicker steering and our test vehicle's optional summer performance tires. The result is lots of speed and impressive handling and braking.

acceleration

edmunds rating
There's lots of "boost," not much "eco," with the EcoBoost V6. Has instant, effortless power anytime you touch the gas pedal. The six-speed automatic is smooth and smart about using the 350 lb-ft of torque; 0-60 mph takes just 6.3 seconds, which is excellent for a big three-row crossover.

braking

edmunds rating
The brakes don't feel overly powerful, but they get the job done. The pedal has a nice linear action around town, and it's easy to stop smoothly. We recorded a remarkable stopping distance from 60 mph of 108 feet, thanks largely to the (optional) sticky summer tires.

steering

edmunds rating
Well-tuned electric steering system and natural assist level; it turns in with immediacy. Good heft at speed but light enough for parking-lot duty. Feedback could be improved, but overall it's excellent for this class.

handling

edmunds rating
The Sport's stiffer suspension and optional performance tires transform the Explorer. Body roll is kept to a minimum, the tires give good grip and it doesn't feel floaty. The suspension does a good job soaking up midcorner bumps, too.

drivability

edmunds rating
The gas pedal can be a bit abrupt on initial tip-in. The optional adaptive cruise control is ultra-consistent and never varies by more than 1 mph; the transmission downshifts to maintain speed. Always-available power makes merging into fast traffic simple.

comfort

edmunds rating
Given the 2017 Explorer Sport's handling prowess, we expected ride quality to suffer. We were wrong. Although it loses a small degree of overall plush compared to the regular Explorer, the tauter handling is worth the minor trade-off. The seats are comfy, except in the third row.

seat comfort

edmunds rating
The reasonably wide and flat front seats are cushy with good support. Nicely padded armrests. The optional second-row buckets have excellent comfort but no inner armrests. The third-row upper seatback is hard and has awkward outer armrests.

ride comfort

edmunds rating
The Sport's stiffer suspension tuning means you'll feel more bumps and ruts on the road than you will in a regular Explorer, but it's still pretty comfy. The 20-inch wheels make deep potholes harsh, but the suspension is surprisingly compliant given the improved handling.

noise & vibration

edmunds rating
A quiet SUV. The tires are unusually silent for their size and performance-bent. Wind noise is barely noticeable, too. At full throttle, the turbocharged V6 takes on a V8-like tonal quality.

interior

edmunds rating
We're glad Ford finally got rid of the touch-sensitive controls on the Explorer's center stack. We highly recommend the optional sliding second-row bucket seats — you lose a seat but gain comfort as well as better third-row access and space. Rear visibility is a problem.

ease of use

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All-new Sync 3 technology interface works far better than previous versions. Radio tuning uses a button; volume, a grippy knob. Handy, configurable gauge screens.

getting in/getting out

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The long and wide-opening front doors make for a big entryway. Noticeable step down from the second row; shorter-legged folks will brush their leg on the doorsill, but hitting heads is not an issue. Second-row captain's chairs make for easy third-row access.

driving position

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Most drivers will find it easy to get in a good position that feels comfortable and affords a good view. On the downside, once situated the armrests can be too far away for some to use comfortably.

roominess

edmunds rating
Super airy up front, with a long dash, loads of headroom and elbow space. Second-row captain's chairs recline and, unlike the standard bench seat, slide fore and aft. Third-row headroom is good for average-size adults, but knee- and footroom are extremely tight.

visibility

edmunds rating
Expansive windshield and tall windows. The windshield roof pillars are thick at the bottom, though, which hampers your ability to easily look through turns. The rear view is also limited by thick pillars. Getting the optional parking sensors and other driver safety aids will help out.

quality

edmunds rating
A well-made SUV. Plenty of soft-touch materials throughout the cabin; the steering wheel has quality leather; the trim pieces look good and fit together well. The only flaw we noticed was an occasional dash rattle that we couldn't pinpoint.

utility

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The cargo area's deep well is useful even if the total cargo volume isn't exceptional. There's a good variety of cabin storage overall.

small-item storage

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Anti-tip cupholders, long door pockets, a huge center console bin. The forward bin is covered but oddly shaped.

cargo space

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The deep well behind the third row provides a superior amount of space. The total capacity of 81.7 cubic feet is on the small end for the segment.

child safety seat accomodation

Installing certain rear-facing child seats in the middle of the second row makes it difficult to use the outboard seat belts. Two child seats can fit easily in the outboard positions, but some seat manufacturers don't recommend using them in conjunction with Ford's optional inflatable seat belts.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.