2012 Ford Explorer

By Jim MacPherson

Last year’s complete redesign – redefinition might be more accurate – of the Ford Explorer was a great success. Sales rose 125 percent. To accomplish this, Ford transformed the Explorer, taking it from a truck-based sport utility vehicle to a passenger-car-based crossover.

Among the changes is revised styling that does more than reflect Ford’s new sense of aesthetics. It also makes the Explorer look smaller than it is, at least from a distance. Get closer, however, and this crossover seems to inflate, gaining in both length and height, though it’s only four inches longer than the previous Explorer.

“I currently drive an Explorer, and it is extremely comfortable,” says Paul Hansen, partner and general manager at Bill Selig Ford in Windsor. “It’s a beautiful riding car. It’s quiet. It’s a luxury car.”

Three trim levels are offered. The base version is well equipped with air conditioning, and all the power assists, including a six-way power driver’s seat, seven passenger capacity with three rows of seating and a CD-playing audio system. The XLT adds rear obstacle detection, a handy feature on any vehicle but one that takes on extra importance in a family vehicle with limited rear visibility. It also adds alloy wheels, satellite radio and fog lights.

Our review Limited was top-of-the-line, with power adjustable pedals, power front passenger’s seat, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and a rearview camera. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Power in the new Explorer comes from either a 3.5-liter V-6 or a newly available and optional at extra cost EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The V-6 produces 290 horsepower, only two less than the previous generation’s V-8. As for the four-cylinder, this twin-turbo engine is rated at 240 horsepower. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional on V-6 models.

This newest Explorer is a slick piece of work. The exterior design has a sleek feel to it. Inside, Ford has done a very nice job with the design, selection of materials and assembly. The Explorer offers comfortable accommodations, front and rear, for adults, though rear seat leg room suffers a little with the front seats moved all the way back. The real surprise is the third row. While access isn’t the easiest, there’s room for two adults to fit comfortably.

The V-6 engine delivers enough power to satisfy the last generation’s V-8 buyers. Our all-wheel drive Explorer Limited reached 60 miles per hour in 8.1 seconds. Full throttle acceleration produces engine noises that suggest the V-6 dropped out of finishing school a week before graduating. It is absolutely silent and totally smooth during normal driving. Wind and road noise are also hushed at highway speeds. The Explorer could give many luxury cars a run for their money when it comes to interior silence.

The ride is stable and comfortable. The Explorer absorbs bumps well. Handling is predictable with good, if light, steering feel. Braking distances were good, but the pedal felt soft.

Undeniably flexible, the new Explorer should be able to swallow most families – and their gear – with ease.

Starts at: $28,280

Engines:                               V-6                                         EcoBoost I4

HP                                       290                                         240

Torque (lb-ft)                        255                                         270

EPA FWD                             17/25                                     20/28

EPA AWD                             17/23                                     N/A

Next week: Infiniti FX

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