Right off the top, I’ll admit that I’ve had very strong opinions about Ford’s line of full-size SUVs for nigh on two decades. As I was preparing to take responsibility for the latest Explorer for a few days, flashbacks of hard, plasticky interiors and lazy V8s that couldn’t even breach 300hp sprung to mind, which then got me thinking: that can’t still be the case, could it? They can’t have stood still, these new ones should be at least decent..right? For one thing, Ford’s wisely switched the Explorer to a unibody platform, making this officially a huge crossover.
$3/gallon gas prices and a general economic recession in the States late last decade also saw the aforementioned big, naturally-aspirated engines put to pasture in favor of much more modern turbocharged (Ford would really prefer if you'd use the term "EcoBoost", though) units. The objective was to come up with a leaner, tighter, and more efficient SUV; Ford reckons they've hit the mark, and then some. Here's what I found after some time with the refreshed Explorer:
The 2.3L turbo engine loosed a dollop of power as I pulled out of Ford Alabang, enough to get the front wheels to chirp a little. Whoa, this engine is far from lazy. Good stuff. I wasn’t at all expecting to break traction from that tiny bit of throttle input, if I'm being honest. It was a pleasant surprise though, one that probably shouldn’t have been too shocking considering the figures: this is the smallest engine you can have on an Explorer yet it pushes out 270hp and 408Nm of torque. Those are Japanese rally car numbers. EcoBoosted indeed. Equipped with a capable but otherwise average 6-speed autobox, the Explorer pulls smoothly but urgently when prodded. Happy with the knowledge that this car definitely isn’t plagued by the lazy old engines from the the days of yore, I began to take another look at the rest of the car with fresh eyes.
The interior continues the theme of pleasant surprises: everything in sight is either leather or soft-touch plastic. The center console is a neatly laid out panel sporting a fun number of buttons. That Sony logo is oddly comforting to see on a Ford console. The instruments are displayed on driver-adjustable twin LCD screens flanking the large central speedometer. While it never gets overwhelming, it does take a little bit of practice to get used to all the toys you get to play with while sitting in the driver’s seat.
"...This is the smallest engine you can have on an Explorer yet it pushes out 270hp and 408Nm of torque."
Speaking of toys, this is the most feature-packed vehicle I’ve ever been in short of top-of-the-line Mercs and the like: front and rear parking cameras, blind spot information system, front and rear parking sensors, Ford’s own SYNC entertainment console, bluetooth, USB ports both for the front and middle rows, a full 230V socket, inflatable rear seat belts, engine remote start/stop, hands-free rear gate, a 12-speaker setup from Sony, dual panel moonroof, power-folding third row, and finally, the Explorer’s coup de grâce: cooled front seats. Where have you been all my life, cold seats? I love you. That’s a solid list of standard equipment, fit for cars costing much more, yet Ford managed to price the Explorer at just P2,479,000. Impressive!
So as you can probably tell by now, I wasn’t just warming up to this big American SUV; I was reveling in the forbidden and reckless love affair we were having. I was smitten. I took it out for a drive down to Tagaytay, thinking it would be as good a place as any for a first date. The Explorer handled a nearly-empty SLEX with cushioned grace, then the twisty uphill roads that followed with a bit less enthusiasm, but nonetheless we arrived in comfort happy with the big SUV’s performance. Oof, you really feel the car’s full 2,000kg on the quicker corners though. Still, that was a pleasant drive. It also dealt with patches of uneven pavement and the odd pothole without issue, quietly absorbing most of the rough stuff to keep you and yours comfy; I’d call that another win, then.
The Explorer isn’t perfect however as its Achilles heel is still fuel mileage; yes, my White Platinum unit is probably the most efficient Explorer ever but it still returned a fairly disappointing 6.5 km/L over your standard Manila-Tagaytay-Manila trip, all under ideal traffic conditions. The tradeoff is you’re driving quite a large land barge so you do have plenty of room to lounge around in (at the expense of added weight), and the power on tap always feels more than adequate. Put aside some cash for an extra stop or two to refuel and you'll be rewarded with one of the best road trip machines around. ..And my bum is still cool as a cucumber. I need this to be on every chair I sit on, anywhere, at all times.
"..I wasn’t just warming up to this big American SUV; I was reveling in the forbidden and reckless love affair we were having. I was smitten."
As I was contemplating the similarities in temperature between my rear and the white wine I had the previous night, I began to think about how else this car has improved from the previous iterations. A quarter century of sales domination, in the US at least, means Ford has gotten the formula down pat over the five generations the Explorer has been around. It’s only now that it feels like Ford finally woke up and listened to the rest of the world’s needs; that 2.3L powerplant isn’t the most efficient, at least by comparison to popular Asian rivals, but it’s leaps and bounds better than the sad old days of high-displacement, low-output engines. The Fortuner, Montero, and Everest may be selling like hotcakes at the moment, mostly due to their diesel engines and lower cost of entry, but the Explorer absolutely blows them out of the water in nearly every measurable way.
The Explorer is less prime rib then and more Chicago-style hot dog, with everything on it. And just like the latter, each ingredient in this packed crossover is there for a reason, it isn't just tech noise. Sure it may be a bit pricier than a lot of capable SUVs out there; however in addition to your basic requirements of cavernous space and comfy ride quality you now also get an interior to be proud of, a place you really wouldn’t mind being in while stuck in our ever-present traffic. The Explorer isn’t defined by just how big it is or how many more cylinders it has than the competition anymore; it fully justifies its price with a quiet air of authority. It goes about its business with a calm confidence, borne from knowing it has few faults, if any. If you're at all in the market for a solid daily driver, there's really no need to look any further than the Ford Explorer.