Saturday, October 14, 2017


The Ford Explorer wasn’t the first SUV, which dates back to the 1930s with the wagon-like Chevrolet Carryall Suburban, nor was it the first of the modern version inspired by the post-World War II Land Rover and Jeep.

In fact, it wasn’t even the first vehicle of it type out of Ford factories. That would be the Ford Bronco that was promoted as a multi-purpose vehicle and was manufactured from 1966 through 1996, long enough for Al Cowlings to try to spirit away O.J. Simpson on the infamous low-speed chase through Los Angeles freeways.

But certainly the case can be made that the Ford Explorer quickly became the iconic vehicle of its class when it was introduced in 1991, outselling (according to Motor Trend’s history of the Explorer) the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet S-10 Blazer combined with 300,000 units the first year and over 400,000 units by the end of the second generation a decade later.

It took just three years (1994) for the Explorer to become the No. 9 best-selling motor vehicle of any type, not just trucks and SUVs.

It no longer occupies such a lofty perch, ranking behind the Escape as far as Ford’s SUV sales and behind the F-Series, Escape, and Fusion for all Ford cars/trucks. Not that it is anywhere near it deathbed.

According to September reports taken from the website, the Explorer ranked 16th in U.S. September sales and a total of 21,207 vehicles sold, an increase of nearly 11 percent over the 19,146 reported for 2016 with an increase of 5.6 percent to 199,034 for year-to-date sales.

Considering all the bad publicity that the Explorer got in the late 1990s and early 2000s (Remember the Firestone rollover controversy?), it’s a wonder it isn’t on life support if around at all.

The Explorer of today is very different from its predecessors in one especially key aspect. It no longer is of body-on-frame construction as typical of early SUVs. The truck-based platform is good for off-road vehicles and towing but the ride is generally less than friendly, and, considering the time most people spend off-roading with their SUVs is minimal, that makes them less practical for most buyers than the unibody frame crossovers. (Think sedan.)

Ford made the switch for unibody construction for the Explorer with the 2011 model after a 20-year run, so, no, the 2017 Ford Explorer is probably not your father’s Explorer and certainly not your grandfather’s. (Or grandmother’s. I don’t want to be sexist here.)

That’s not a bad thing, but maybe kind of a good thing. After all, the Wilderness Society estimates the percentage of people who use their vehicles to actually go off-roading at a mere 1.5 percent.

As with many Ford products, the Explorer comes with a lot of choices. It is offered in five trims — base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum — with three engines available. Sport and Platinum editions are all-wheel drive only, but others get front-wheel as standard with optional AWD. All models get a six-speed automatic transmission.

As is usually the case, my vehicle for the week was the top-of-the-line Platinum edition that bears an MSRP of $54,180 including the $945 destination and delivery charge. That’s about a $22,000 jump over the price for the base model, but naturally, you get a whole bunch of equipment that is standard on the Platinum but optional (if available) on the base or other trims.

That list includes (but is not limited to) LED signature lighting, chrome exhaust tips, power moonroof, rear spoiler, roof rack with side rails, heated and ventilated front seats, second-row heated seats, adaptive cruise control, leather touches throughout the interior (including seat surfaces), power-fold third-row seat, power tilt and telescope steering wheel, woodgrain interior accents, a trailer towing package (towing capacity is only 5,000 pounds), park assist, lane-keeping assist, premium audio, front 180-degree and rearview camera, remote start, Sync3 infotainment functions (including voice-activated navigation) with 8-inch screen, and a terrain management system that adapts to different conditions (normal, mud, snow, and sand) and includes hill descent control.

That eliminates the need for a lot of options, but the model I had was a special red color (ruby red metallic tinted) and featured 20-inch bright machine face wheels, second-row bucket seats, and a second-row console that put the final tab at $55,420.

The Explorer is smaller than the full-size Expedition, but that doesn’t make it a small vehicle, of course. I prefer to drive it in Sport mode, which adds to the driving experience and gives you more active responses, but no doubt impacts the fuel mileage ratings of 16 miles-per-gallon city, 22 highway, 18 combined for the optional 3.5-liter V6 Ecoboost engine (365 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque).

You can shift gears via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which you don’t find on every SUV, though with Sport mode setting available, there really isn’t a lot of reason to use them.

Other engines available on the Explorer are a 2.4-liter, Ecoboost 4-cylinder that offers the best fuel mileage (19/27) while compromising only slightly on power (280 hp, 310 lb.-ft.) and a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 17/24 (290 hp, 255 lb.-ft.)

The Explorer is an excellent highway cruiser and not all that difficult to negotiate around town taking into consideration its size. It looks bigger than it really is, which is 198.3 inches long and 70 inches tall with a curb weight of 4,453 pounds. It seats seven, though those in the back get less than 34 inches of legroom. The two in the front get over 41 inches, and the second row is in-between, a cozy 39.5 inches.

All in all, it’s easy to see why the Ford Explorer enjoyed the success that it has, but unlike when it was introduced, it has a lot of competitors in the segment now, especially since it now is a crossover. Maybe it should have kept that body-on-frame construction.

What I liked about the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum: There’s a lot of room for storage behind that third row (21 cubic feet) and if you need more, the back row seats fold flat with the push of a button giving you nearly 44 cubic feet of cargo volume with a flat floor.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum: The starting price tag of over $53,000 seems a bit much for an Explorer, but it does include a lot of equipment. But even the Explorer’s base MSRP starts at well over $31,000.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum? I’d give it a look. I liked the performance and it does a lot of things well, which accounts for its popularity. No, the rollover issue is not a concern. It got a 4-star safety rating from the federal government in rollover and 5-star score in other crash tests (front and backseats, front and side crash) an 5-star overall mark.

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