Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted May 26, 2016 15:55
Leading the pack
How quickly did five years go by?
It was in October of 2011 the Ford Philippines launched what has become one of their most popular models to date: the fifth generation Explorer. That model was quickly snapped up by our market given the attractive styling, the excellent pricing, and the way it redefined what was to be expected as standard in the class.
Now they've got a new model. No, it's not all new, but this Explorer definitely gets a long list of upgrades and updates, and now we'll see if it's still as good as we remember it to be.
Truth be told, I didn't think the Explorer really needed a redesign. Sure the look may be five years old now, but it's still very stylish. Nevertheless the design of the refreshed Explorer is a natural evolution of the original; boxier, edgier, and classier.
In many ways, it still seems inspired by many of the design cues of more upmarket brands such as Range Rover. The front has been massaged a bit; the headlights are now more angular, and complemented by C-style foglamps below. The wheels are now 20 inchers, and the rear has likewise been revised with a new lamp design and a reshaped tailgate. It's still the familiar shape of the Explorer, but with a few design tweaks to keep it ahead of the times. The white body color certainly serves to contrast
Inside, the Explorer's cabin feels and looks all business. The previous versions of the Explorer have had the light gray leather on the seats, but this new model has all-black seating, inserts, and ceiling liners. The accents of the previous Explorer were done in matte silver; the new one gets polished metal with wood-style inserts, definitely a level up from the 2011-2015 model.
Looking around the dashboard and controls, the Explorer hasn't changed much; and that's a good thing. Everything is intuitively placed, including the steering wheel directional switches that control the multi-info screens flanking the speedometer. At the center of the dash is the novel Ford SYNC multimedia touchscreen, while just below is the Sony audio system that powers 12 speakers around the cabin. I'm glad that Ford opted to remove the rather annoying touch-panel control on the previous Sony audio system, but really, I'm more satisfied that Ford chucked out the +/- Selectshift button on the shifter, as these new paddles just make far more sense.
If I kept going on about the features, we may start running out of space. Seriously, they threw in everything they can into this “base” model Explorer. Both front seats are power adjustable and can be either cooled or heated; like we really use the latter. There are four 12-volt accessory sockets and two USB charging ports. There are two glass panels above for a view of the sky. Bluetooth is standard. There are two headrest monitors for the backseat passengers. There's a 180 degree camera in front. The keyfob is of the smart type. The tailgate can be opened with a “kick”. There's even a 230-volt socket. The rear seatbelts have a mini-airbag built in in them, so on and so forth. The list of features is so long that I'm surprised it didn't come with a barbecue grill.
The major change that I truly appreciated was the engine change. Gone is the 2.0-liter EcoBoost in favor of the 2.3-liter EcoBoost. If that engine sounds familiar, it's because it's the same as the one found in the Mustang, but in the Explorer it makes 274 PS and 408 Newton-meters of torque. The new 2.3-liter EcoBoost represents a 14% increase in power (2.0L: 240 PS) and an 11% increase in torque (2.0L: 366 Nm). The gearbox is still the same 6-speed automatic, but as stated, it now gets paddle shifters. This version is the front-wheel drive; if you'd like all-wheel drive capabilities, the Explorer Sport may be for you.
The Explorer really has excellent road manners for an large vehicle, especially in the city. The crossover platform (unibody/monocoque, similar to cars) means that this Explorer is the first in the line since Ford introduced the Explorer name in 1991. The ride is not what I would characterize as extremely supple, but there's plenty of pliancy to absorb much of the road despite the 20 inch rolling stock. Refinement, as expected, is great; noise suppression is well tuned to block out much of the ambient noise we get on our streets. What most drivers will have to get accustomed to is the width of the vehicle; it can be very tricky to maneuver around tight streets, so pick your urban routes carefully and don't rely completely on Waze.
Despite the EcoBoost tag, the Explorer can sip quite a bit of fuel if you're not mindful of your throttle inputs. Driving inefficiently can result in fuel eco figures around the 5.0-5.5 km/l range (18 km/h average), but driving more sensibly can easily kick up then number to 7.3 km/l (20 km/h average). The real trick lies in preventing the turbo from spooling up and generating boost; more air into the chamber and the ECU will automatically add more fuel to the mix. By keeping the Explorer -when possible- at around 1500-2000 rpm, a shrewd driver can get more out of it in the city.
The Explorer really works best when taken on a long drive out of town. There's a certain feeling that a well-sorted, large crossover SUV generates when driven on a long expressway. The commanding view of the road ahead, the width of the cabin, and the way the Explorer doesn't get fettered by crosswinds on an open road are great attributes to have on a family excursion. And the fuel economy gets better too; on the highway, the Explorer did 12.1 km/l at an average speed of 89 km/h average (2 pax).
Going up winding mountain roads, it's best to keep in mind that the Explorer is quite heavy. The EcoBoost gives it great acceleration, but you will have to put your foot down if the vehicle is fully loaded. Mind you, the good thing about this Explorer is that the width of the vehicle, the large tires, and the relatively low center of mass give it a good footprint on the road. Handling is quite good for its size, and there's no need to worry about rollovers with this vehicle (it's got Roll Stability Control) unless you really drive like someone who's had 10 cups of coffee coupled with hard rock music on the Explorer's great audio system.
Without a doubt, the Explorer Limited is still a very competitive vehicle in its class and price range, especially since that includes great models like the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, the Mitsubishi Pajero, and the Honda Pilot. The only thing missing from its capabilities is the presence of a diesel option, but Ford will most likely leave that to the hot-selling Everest.