The standard 3.5-liter six-cylinder will serve most buyers well. The engine itself isn’t a bad choice but wouldn’t be our first choice if we were considering an Explorer. We would choose one of the fantastic Ecoboost four-cylinder engines. You can choose between two of them, there’s a 2.3-liter turbo and a 3.5-liter turbo. The 2.3 turbo engine makes more sense because it has more torque at low revs and doesn’t feel like it is out of its depth when lugging the Explorer around town and on the highway. The top of the range 3.5 turbo certainly does the job well and is our favorite of the engine range. There’s plenty of torque at low revs and when you kick it into high gear it goes like stink. We had the opportunity to test drive the Explorer Sport which came with that 3.5 turbo engine so we decided to test the 2.3 Ecoboost four-cylinder in XLT trim.
Here’s the run down about this four-cylinder engine. We love how smooth and responsive it is when needed the most and it doesn’t leave you high and dry at higher revs, however what made us question the four-cylinder is the running costs. The 3.5 non-turbo has similar running costs and has 10hp more, but way less torque at low revs. Secondly, the fact that you’ll have to use premium fuel really does lose a lot of appeal with this engine because the only other engine that requires premium is the 3.5 turbo and that one is well justified. You could use regular fuel on this engine but you will hurt fuel economy and the engine won’t perform the way it should when using premium so we highly recommend sticking with premium to get the best out of this engine. It certainly is more refined that we anticipated, especially when driving on the highway at relaxed speeds or just scooting around town. Steering feedback is where it should be; it’s not overly heavy and does leave a lot to be desired at higher speeds. The suspension does cope with bumps and rough surfaces well; however the only complaint is that at highway speeds you could see the hood shake slightly.
The interior of the Explorer is very roomy for seven people. We weren’t able to test out all three rows of seats but we did test them individually and found there is ample space across the board. Passengers in the third row may feel a little shortchanged on legroom and some headroom, but there are vents to help it feel less claustrophobic as well as large windows helps keep the cabin from feeling gloomy. The infotainment screen is downright tiny compared to the one that you can get with the more expensive trims and while it is pretty easy to navigate through, the button happy dashboard made things feel a little too distracting especially while on the go. We strongly suggest learning where everything as it gets simpler the more you fiddle around with it. The quality of the dash is iffy at best with some of the best touching materials left for the expensive trim levels and the iffy feeling plastics being used here. It does feel long lasting but for a car with a price tag near $40k we were expecting more. The boot space is decent with all three rows in place. You can fold all two rows down and have yourself a cargo van in space. The only other vehicle that can best the Explorer when it comes to an enormous boot is the Chevy Suburban which is alpha of cargo space.
Our tester car came fitted with LED headlights, push button ignition switch; reverse sensing system and Ford SYNC system with Bluetooth connectivity. Optional equipment included the 2.3 Ecoboost four-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive. Our tester car didn’t have the optional leather seats, dual-zone climate control or power-folding exterior mirrors. So we were even more confused as to why a crossover with this price tag felt so sparsely equipped. We would’ve liked to see a power tailgate thrown in if you’re going to pay this kind of money for an Explorer.
The Explorer is a popular crossover for those who need seven-seats or just like the way it looks in general. It is a stylish crossover with a good range of engines to choose from, however what we loathe the most about the Explorer is the build quality in general is pretty iffy and well a car that’s near $40k has a tiny infotainment screen and felt very sparsely kitted. You can’t go wrong with this crossover but you can if you don’t pay the premium for one of the nicer ones.
Likes: The turbo engines and even non-turbo engine have strong pull to them and decent running costs. The interior is roomy for seven people and yet it is easy to live with.
Dislikes: The build quality in general is very iffy. The 2.3 Ecoboost engine sounds good on paper but in real life it has some short comings that makes the 3.5 non-turbo a better choice. The more expensive versions feel the most desirable.
Our pick: Go with the Explorer Sport. It feels like the better choice. We love the performance and the running costs aren’t wildly insane. If you can’t muster up the cash for the Sport, go for one of the XLT but skip the 2.3 Ecoboost engine option as it just doesn’t feel worth the premium unless you’re okay with using premium fuel.