Jude P. Morte / Jude P. Morte | July 14, 2007 00:00
Still large, still imposingThe Ford Explorer has always been an SUV built for toting seven to eight people in comfort (along with their luggage), with more than enough engine grunt to carry itself and its load. But can this incredible bulk still hold sway in a crowded SUV landscape?
The feminine mark
A tidbit of trivia: Ford placed the fate of its best-selling midsize symbol of masculine needs and breeding in the hands of chief engineer Judy Curran. The mark of feminine input is very evident when you step into the cabin, as she loaded the Explorer with sound-insulation materials. Most SUVs are echo chambers that bounce road noise, wind noise and engine noise around. Now the Explorer driver can even talk with third row passengers (like parent in the front row addressing sibling warfare in the back rows) without having to scream. Second and third row occupants can also enjoy fully the sound coming from the ceiling-mounted rear seat DVD entertainment or the CD/MP3-ready radio, but its sound needs help treble-wise.
The Explorer's interior has shaped up nicely. The side airconditioning (a/c) vents and dashboard gauge layout take a page from the previous model Ford Expedition, due to chrome lining around the vents and the gauges, plus a black-on-white dashboard design with bigger font. Opening the doors from the inside is courtesy of aluminum-lined handles at the end of the armrests, which can be confusing at first but can be done away with familiarization. Speaking of the a/c, the second row and third row a/c vents are less in number than in the previous model. Also, the blower speed for the said a/c vents is now controlled solely by the driver via two dials mounted on the ceiling near the middle of the front windshield.
Loading people and things is one of the Explorer's strengths, and it is evident with the large cabin dimensions. Headroom and legroom are abundant in the first two rows. Third row legroom and lateral room have improved slightly from the previous model, but can only fit kids and adults 5' 4" and below. For third row occupants, the latch for tumbling the second row is of the same color as the seats and carpeting, but is big enough to be seen. When all the rear seats are folded flat the Explorer swallows 83.7 cubic feet of cargo, enough to fulfill one's needs for a quarter of a year and (literally) the kitchen sink. Storing bric-a-brac is also great, with 10 cupholders and a large center console; unfortunately there's no second row door storage and the glovebox is small.
From the outside the 2007 Explorer Eddie Bauer (the unit lent to this writer) looks pretty much like its predecessor, save for a new (and better looking) front fascia, taillight assembly and tailgate.
The masculine sway
Estrogen and progesterone come out the door and testosterone comes in with regard to what's going on under the hood, as the Explorer's 4.0L V6 now sports a fatter and smoother torque curve, with better low end response. Third gear is rather tall, there's noticeable shift shock (whether on upshifts or downshifts) and the five-speed automatic transmission (a/t) tends to "hunt" a lot between second and third gears on winding roads. The floor mounted a/t stick is a welcome change from the steering column-mounted stick of the previous model, and is a monument to testicular fortitude due to its phallic design. Top speed is a tested 170 kph, but a jaw dropping five kilometers per liter fuel consumption on four days of mixed driving.
The Explorer handed to this writer for testing (a Php 2.295 million Eddie Bauer 4x2) has a ride that's more comfortable than in the previous model, but walks a thin line between floaty and firm. There's noticeable body roll on turns and the tires on the test unit (BF Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A 245/65R17s) break traction at 65-plus kph with the traction control off, with the ABS and EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution) applying significant stopping power. Interestingly, when the traction control does wake up, the activation sound is a near-toneless rustle. The closest this writer comes to a sound-involved analogy is that of a stick being jerked through water.
Steering is light but blunt, and the steering wheel controls (especially the a/c and audio buttons) are easy to reach. Braking ability doesn't exactly inspire confidence, requiring a little more effort on the middle pedal. Ditto for the parking brake, and the aforementioned primary safety piece totes a hard-to-reach deactivation lever that is parallel to the driver's knee. Adding to the Explorer's safety quirks is a confusing windshield wiper stalk. But there's a dimming feature for the rear mirror that's helpful in reducing glare during night driving.
In spite of its fuel consumption and primary safety system quirks, the Ford Explorer still looms large in the SUV landscape. If your five to six pax family is composed of people 5' 6" and above, or if you're a frequent hauler with an American SUV preference, then the Explorer is a perfect fit.