When I was sixteen years old, I got my very first car. It was the realization of a dream and a right to passage for any teenage boy.
Of course, I was no ordinary teen. I was just as car crazy then as I am now. While many of my friends wanted Honda Civics and Mitsubishi Lancers so that they could tune them to the heavens, I wanted something different. Tuning was never my cup of tea anyway. I preferred luxury, comfort, smoothness, and versatility. When the right time came or rather when my mother got tired of hearing me beg for it on the dinner table, I finally took home a Ford Explorer. It wasn't the SUV that we know today, it was still in its pick-up configuration back then - in our shores at least. It was a white Sport Trac, and I loved it to bits. I barely slept the first week that I had it. I cleaned it myself.
You could lick the interior for dinner and have the tires for dessert. I had a knack for coming in fashionably late for class, but that idiocy ended as soon as this car arrived. I would wake up extra early just to get a few minutes in the morning to stare at it, and maybe sneak in the occasional cigarette before I'd drive myself to class. School back then was only a village away, but in classic Manila traffic, I could play five songs before I'd reach the gate. It goes without saying that if I adored my car en route to school, I must've enjoyed everywhere else - and I did. It has a special place in my heart and that adoration for the Explorer line has transcended into the newer ones.
Last year, we tested the 2.3-liter Explorer EcoBoost and I really loved it. It came in a suit and tie, and it rode like butter. So is this Range Rover-esque Sport version even better?
I guess that'll depend on what matters to you. From an aesthetic standpoint, it's a no-contest. The Explorer 2.3 EcoBoost is like casually dating a pretty girl from school. You think she's the most beautiful thing in the world until you get serious and meet her twin sister who flew in from New York - a more polished and perfected version of your so-called girlfriend. This one is even prettier and sexier. The 3.5-liter Sport version really looks like the child out of wedlock of a Range Rover. The black accents, smoked light fixtures, and gorgeous 20-inch wheels step all over its sibling as far as looks go. If you only care about looks, then this is the Explorer to go for. Everyone is unanimously attracted to it and that is irregardless of what color you get it in.
If boundless power is your sort of thing, this is for you. The 2.3-liter Ecoboost had more power than I could use or need in the Philippines, especially for a behemoth of a crossover SUV. However, excessiveness is the name of the game and if you'd like 365 horses at your disposal, you can have it too. This engine can cruise and glide smoothly in the city, but when you put your foot down, the power delivery is quite savage. If you have the cash to burn, and embarrassing cars on stoplights is what makes you sleep better at night, you will love this. Buying this car is one thing and running it is another. This is the first car I've refused to see the fuel consumption gauge of. One glance at an average combined figure horrified me so much, I refused to do it again.
Expecting an Explorer to be frugal because of some sort of turbocharging sorcery is like buying a pill you saw on the Internet that swears it will make you thin. They forget to put the part that you are required to enslave yourself at the gym in the same way that Ford doesn't factor in our world class traffic situation in the Philippines. Fuel economy aside, everything is as it should be. The cabin is tastefully done, the seats are supportive, and you have a gargantuan glass roof to impress your mates with. The seats have great adjustability and so does the steering wheel. Even the pedals can be adjusted, but what can't be sorted out is the left foot rest for the driver, because there isn't one. This calls for a slightly awkward driving position.
I am also not a fan of the pseudo carbon-fiber trim. Wood would've been perfect. Okay, that didn't sound right. Ford's SYNC technology offers a buffet of features expected from a car at this price point and it now has physical buttons that you can press to get things done quickly - like turning up the air-conditioned seats to cool your bum. It has countless USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, TV screens at the rear, and an automatically-operated third row of seats that can vanish at the push of a button. There is also an all-terrain switch that you can select depending on the kind of surface you're driving on. It works, but it is still no hardcore off-roader. What it does, is it gives you confidence in variable driving conditions. Also, the plastic on the front lip sits quite low.
"It allows you to go around bends in a way that the non-Sport version cannot."
I am very pleased to say that Ford has finally mounted some paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Not that I think it is completely necessary, but they've finally let go of the idiocy of putting +/- rocker switches on the gear lever. Driving the Explorer on the smooth highway is quite a pleasant thing too. Even on the twisty roads, it handled its weight with a lot more grace than I expected. The sport suspension in this model is the internal star of this Explorer. It allows you to go around bends in a way that the non-Sport version cannot. It is also however, its achilles heel. You see, I don't think that people want a stiff and jarring SUV - an Explorer at that. If they wanted something stiff and sporty, wouldn't they opt for a Mustang? An Explorer is supposed to be soothing.
This for me is its biggest issue. The one and only time I would've wanted "Sport" to stand as a marketing gimmick is in this car, but sadly, it's the real McCoy. I don't think I'd be happy to spend more cash on something unnecessarily stiffer and thirstier, when in truth, its 2.3-liter twin was more than I could've asked for to begin with. Don't get me wrong, the 3.5-liter Sport isn't uncomfortable by any means. It's all relative at this point. They are both stellar to the markets they cater to, but which one would you rather wake up to on a daily basis - the slightly less attractive, but infinitely charming one who's laid back, soft-spoken, and smooth as butter, or, her stiffer high-maintenance, haute couture-wearing twin who's always wired on cocaine? Your choice.
Intelligence and luxury.
So here are my two cents worth. The Explorer Sport is not the most comfortable offering, it will not tackle terrain the way a Toyota Prado does, and neither will it be easy on your wallet. However, if you want a car, crossover, SUV or whatever you call them these days, that looks like a 4 million peso car, with equipment you'd expect from a 5 million peso car, and an overall experience that feels like a 6 million peso car - look no further. You will not find anything quite as luxurious, opulent, and handsome as this.
It feels just as great doing the school run as it does pulling up at the Manila Peninsula. It would look bonkers too, pulling a set of jet skis to your beach house with more than enough power and torque from the EcoBoost engine. Now, before you argue that you can have a luxurious SUV with a diesel engine, remember that will probably cost north of 4 million pesos. This one only costs PhP2,855,000. You will never break even. This is a bargain for those that can afford it, and a rather handsome and capable one at that.
It's okay to stare.