2018 Ford Explorer: Capable, Confident, Rugged and Powerful

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Thursday, November 8, 2018

Explorer began as a trim package offered on Ford F-Series trucks from 1968 to 1986, but ever since the Ford Explorer became its own model line and replaced the Bronco II in the 1991 Blue Oval line-up, the mid-size SUV had been a top-seller and arguably was the vehicle that mainstreamed sports-utes. Through two decades and four generations, the Explorer was the No.1-selling SUV in America.

Now, in the eighth year of its fifth generation, Explorer is still a top-seller, ranked as the No. 7 top-selling SUV/Crossover this year, and coming in second on Ford’s SUV list to its smaller sibling, Escape. With a new design possible for 2020, the 2019 version should only see upgrades in tech, some new appearance packages and a few interior add-ons. So for 2018, Explorer gets a few upgrades over last year, including a new grille insert, with redesigned and smaller fog light housings. Five new wheel options and four new paint options are offered, and the interior gets a 4G LTE modem and Wi-Fi hotspot that connects up to 10 devices. A new Safe and Smart package combines several popular active safety and driver assist tech together.

Built in North America at Chicago Assembly Plant, as well as in Venezuela and Russia, the global Explorer is packed with such standard driver-experience enhancing interior items as: auxiliary rear climate controls, AM/FM stereo/ single-CD player with MP3 capability and six speakers; SYNC® with 4.2-inch color LCD screen in center stack, and media hub with smart-charging USB port; eight-way power driver’s seat; and steering wheel-mounted cruise, audio and five-way controls.

Outside, Explorers have power, heated sideview mirrors with integrated blind spot mirrors; automatic headlamps; roof-rack side rails; and automatic LED headlamps with halogen reflector high beams. And all Explorers come with trailer sway control; a standard Six-speed SelectShift® automatic transmission; front wheel drive; hill start assist and much more.

Explorer’s tweaked look remains rugged and functional, and its closed-off lower roof rack with channels cascade rainwater off the vehicle and create excellent aerodynamics. Explorer’s clean, angular design is set on a unitized steel body that measures 198.3 inches long, 90.2 inches wide including mirrors, and 70.0 inches high on a 112.8-inch wheelbase. Minimum ground clearance is 7.8 inches. Curbweight for the 4WD version is 4629 lbs. and 2WD is 186 lbs. lighter.

Under the hood, my test Explorer was powered by a 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V-6 engine, rated at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The aluminum block and head set-up delivers 290hp and 255 lbs-ft of torque and a week of mixed-use testing achieved an average of 23.3mpg.

Other available engines are a 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-4 that delivers 280 horses and 310 lbs-ft of torque, and is estimated at 28 mpg on the highway; and a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that provides 365 hp and 350 lbs-ft of torque.

With responsive low-end torque, and power available at all speeds with only minor hesitation, I was able to accelerate my 290hp 3.5-liter from zero to 60mph in 7.9 seconds during a 16.2-second quarter-mile.

Handling is carlike, with only minor top-wobble in quick turning, and autocross tests, and Explorer performed well for the niche on- and off-road. Explorer is stable, smoothing out rough roads with a MacPherson strut front suspension with a 32mm stabilizer bar, and an SR1 independent multi-link 22-mm stabilizer bar. Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and AdvanceTrac braking system are predictable and capable.

Inside, the Explorer is roomy, refined and functional with seating for six or seven, and provides a comfortable 41.4 inches of front headroom with 40.6 inches in row two (and 37.8 when there is a third row); legroom is 42.9 inches maximum up front and 39.5 in the second seats (and 33.3 inches in a third row), and shoulder room comes in at 61.5 and 61.0. The third row provides 50.8 inches of shoulder room.

With five-star safety ratings, Explorer safety features include dual-stage front airbags, front-passenger knee airbag, front-seat side airbags, and three-row Safety Canopy System with side-curtain airbags and rollover sensor. Other safety and security items include: AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control™ and Curve Control; Anti-Lock Brake System; battery saver with headlamps-off delay; four-wheel disc with Illuminated Entry System; LATCH – Lower Anchors and Tether Anchors for Children; rearview camera; SecuriLock® Passive Anti-Theft System; SOS Post-Crash Alert System™ and tire pressure monitoring system (excludes spare).

The 2018 Explorer is base priced at $32,140 including destination fees of $995. The XLT trim raises the base to $34,175 for reverse sensing system, LED signature lighting, fog lamps and cosmetic extras. And Limited, Sport and Platinum trims raise the ante to as much as $53,940 (Platinum trim) for upticked cosmetics, tech, power, suspension and interior. My base model in Blue came with the 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V-6 engine, 6-speed SelectShift® Automatic Transmission and FWD. I added Intelligent 4WD for $2150; black running boards added $595; roof rack cross bars added $140; splash guards added $205; and the ticker-as-tested came in at $36,225, but incentives may be available, so check with your local dealer.

> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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