2012 Ford Explorer GTDi XLT EcoBoost

Last year, we got a chance to sample the then all-new Ford Explorer with the 3.5 liter V6 engine. Needless to say, we loved it overall thanks to its stunning looks, comfort, features and presence. If that wasn't enough, the price had us convinced too.

It had, however, one drawback; no matter how much we tried, it's hard to finesse -coerce, even- the V6 engine to deliver better fuel consumption.

Enter the Ford Explorer EcoBoost.

Technically and price-wise, it's positioned under the Explorer V6 we drove before in a manner of speaking. Looking at it from the outside, however, it's hard to tell the difference. The EcoBoost has the same look, and loses none of the commanding on-road presence of the V6, though I do miss the huge 20 inch chrome wheels of the original.

Inside, again, not much has changed at first glance. The seats are wrapped in tan leather, perfectly accentuating the colors on the dashboard and other bits. It feels properly premium, and can rival many SUVs priced far higher up the spectrum. There are a few things that have changed with the features, as the center console no longer has the Sony audio system with the piano black panel, while the sunroof has been deleted. Gone is the knob for terrain settings on the V6, as the original one had the 4-wheel drive system.

Seating for seven is still standard. The chief drawback with the Explorer is the legroom in the 2nd row as passengers 5'6” and above would find it a little tight. What I miss about the EcoBoost that was a neat party trick for the V6 was the power folding mechanism for the 3rd row. Nevertheless, even with manually pulling up the seats, it's still easy to do so even if you're not vertically blessed. What's unique is that they have added a world-first with the EcoBoost: inflatable rear seatbelts to mitigate injuries in the event of a crash. Let's not put that to the test, shall we?

In front of the driver, again, it's the same. There's the three spoke wheel with the control buttons that do more than just adjust volume, as they can manipulate the climate control, adjust the dual LCD screens on either side of the speedometer, control the phone and other functions. At the center of the dashboard is the same Ford SYNC system developed in conjunction with Microsoft, and is every bit as intuitive to use; able to recognize your voice with ease when speaking a command to play the latest songs on your iPod.  It can even recognize Tagalog songs  from my Eraserheads playlist with ease, so long as you speak it phonetically.

The major difference, of course, has to be the engine. The 3.5 liter V6 has been swapped out in favor of a far smaller 2.0 liter, twin cam, 16-valve inline-4. While that doesn't sound like much, you do have to take note that it's an EcoBoost engine which, thanks to gasoline direct injection and turbocharging, delivers the power normally associated with larger displacement engines. As it stands, the Explorer EcoBoost delivers 240 PS and plenty of torque at 366 Newton meters.

To put those figures in perspective with the V6, the Explorer EcoBoost may get 18% less power (V6 has 294 PS) but has 6% more torque (V6 has 345 Nm), and does it with an engine that is 75% smaller in terms of displacement. The 4WD system in the Explorer V6 has been removed in favor of a front wheel drivetrain. In my opinion it's a smart move, as the Explorer doesn't seem like the kind of vehicle you would be taking off-road anyway, as it would be better suited for going out of town on paved provincial highways or, as is the most likely case, be driven around the city everyday to the supermarket, to work, to school or church.

Driving it around, the power is definitely there. The boost becomes apparent at around the 2800 rpm mark, dramatically improving the power from then on out to the redline (if you have the LCD on the left configured to display the digital tachometer. There's also a hint of torque steer when the boost comes in but it's always controllable, no problem.

The big improvement is in the fuel consumption. Being a turbocharged engine, and with direct injection, the Explorer EcoBoost can be driven quite economically considering its size. In the V6 version, getting around 4-5 kilometers per liter around town was the norm if you were just driving casually. In the EcoBoost, those figures are bumped up to 6.5 kilometers per liter in casual driving, but can also go up to around 8 km/l if you were being mindful of keeping the boost at bay; fuel economy drops if you allow the turbine's boost to kick in and feed more air to the engine (more air = more fuel). On the highway, it was challenging to get anything north of 9 or 10 km/l. In the EcoBoost, it's no problem. On a casual cruise at around 90-100 km/h, you can get up to 13.2 km/l, possibly more if you're a bit more serious about fuel economy, and does it in excellent comfort.

Overall, the Ford Explorer GTDi XLT (the official variant name) is competitively packaged vehicle, especially for the price of PhP 2,250,000. Considering that it doesn't lose any of the functionality, versatility and still seats 7, it's a superb choice.

With the Explorer EcoBoost, Ford delivers to their customers a vehicle that's more than comfortable to duke it out with SUVs priced far higher up the spectrum. In the higher weight classes, the Explorer (both the V6 and this EcoBoost) are the definitive pound-for-pound kings.