2018 Ford Explorer

2018 Ford Explorer Review

A spacious and comfortable SUV, the Explorer rolls into 2018 with only minor changes.
4.5 star edmunds overall rating
author
by Jason Kavanagh
Edmunds Editor

When Ford introduced the current generation of the Explorer back in 2011, it switched from the Explorer's traditional body-on-frame construction to a more carlike unibody. In so doing, the Explorer more fully (and smartly) embraced its role as daily family transport, delivering better road manners and much more refinement.

The Explorer is now entering the eighth model year of its current generation, yet it is still competitive. In the meantime, deciding on a three-row crossover SUV has gotten even harder. Today, the Explorer doesn't have the biggest cargo capacity in its class, and its third-row seat isn't tremendously spacious.

While we give the Sport trim level a solid thumbs-up, other trim levels aren't quite as impressive to drive, exhibiting more ponderous routine handling that makes the Explorer feel bigger than it is. Under the hood is your choice of one of three engines: a V6, a turbocharged four-cylinder or a turbocharged V6. Of the three, we like the turbocharged V6 the most. It delivers terrific thrust, which you'll like for highway passing and towing, but unfortunately it's only available with the more expensive trim levels.

Overall, though, the 2018 Ford Explorer gets most things right, and we see it as a respectable choice for a three-row midsize SUV.



what's new

The Explorer receives only minor changes for 2018, with subtle styling tweaks at the front and rear, an integrated 4G LTE hotspot and revised feature availability.

we recommend

Our favorite version of the 2018 Ford Explorer is easily the Sport. It eradicates the ponderousness of non-Sport versions while 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 turbocharged V6 is plenty powerful, and you'll find it to be the engine of choice if you plan to do a lot of towing or hauling.

trim levels & features

There are five different ways to configure your 2018 Ford Explorer: the base, XLT, Limited, Sport and Platinum trim levels, which cover a broad swath of features. The base, XLT and Limited models are available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, while the Sport and Platinum are offered solely with all-wheel drive. Regardless of trim level, every Explorer is equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. For 2018, many driver assistance features (adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and intervention, automatic wipers and automatic high beams) have been grouped together into a single options package.

Base models, predictably, sit at the very bottom of the Explorer range. These models have 18-inch wheels, cloth upholstery and manually adjustable front seats, though a rearview camera and Sync voice commands spruce up things a bit.

The XLT trim level is one rung up the ladder, adding a few standard features over the base trim level and desirable options that aren't available on base variants at all. With its balance between features and value, a well-equipped XLT will be a popular version of the Explorer. A non-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 (290 horsepower, 255 pound-feet of torque) is standard on the base and XLT variants, while a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (280 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque) is available as an option.
 
Buyers who want to amp things up will be attracted to the Limited model, which adds leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, power-adjustable pedals, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, premium audio and power-folding third-row seats. Note that the Limited comes standard with the turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but you can still get the regular V6 if you want.

While those additional comfort items are desirable, we're partial to the Sport variant's more fundamental changes. These models come with a powerful turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 (365 hp, 350 lb-ft of torque), firmer suspension tuning and a towing package.

It's possible to get the turbocharged V6 paired to the softer suspension of non-Sport models by going for the top-of-the-line Platinum trim level. It comes with a panoramic sunroof, an automated parking system, premium leather upholstery, a premium audio system and more.

trim tested

There are typically multiple versions of each vehicle, although many aspects are shared. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2016 Ford Explorer Sport (turbo 3.5L V6 | 6-speed automatic | AWD).

NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current Explorer has received a new infotainment system and minor revisions to feature availability. Our findings remain 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 & vibration5.0 / 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. It 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; zero to 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

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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

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The gas pedal can be a bit abrupt on initial tip-in. The optional adaptive cruise control is ultraconsistent 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 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

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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The 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 legs on the doorsill, but hitting heads is not an issue. Second-row captain's chairs make for easy third-row access.

driving position

edmunds rating
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. The 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. 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.