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.
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.
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.
noise & vibration
ease of use
getting in/getting out
child safety seat accomodation
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.