2018 Ford Explorer
The 'family utility' pioneer
- 박재승 (firstname.lastname@example.org) --
- 29 Oct 2018
By James Park
The utility vehicles have taken over. This is as undeniable as Donald Trump being a polarizing figure.
Many auto enthusiasts want to see this SUV/CUV fad whimper away like the Disco… But the harsh reality seems to point to other direction and all those uppity companies like Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo and Rolls Royce, who had nothing to do with utilities, have already or are in the verge of hopping unto the crossover bandwagon.
I blame the Ford Explorer.
Sure, there were popular four-wheel-drive vehicles as Wrangler, Blazer, Bronco, 4Runner, Defender, etc. before the ‘utility craze’ started in earnest. These, however, appealed mostly to dedicated off-road enthusiasts and professionals who drove their vehicles for work.
Making its debut in 1990, the Explorer is probably the first to market itself to the general public as a ‘family utility’ from the beginning. It emphasized roominess and cargo capacity, visibility and added safety of 4x4 system. None of such arguments is necessarily true, but the public is easily persuaded by perception.
And the rest is history.
And test-driving the 2018 ‘fifth-generation’ Explorer, this writer, cannot help but to admit that the vehicle itself is actually pretty damn good. I guess I can’t really blame Ford for producing something the consumers are willing to pay for.
The latest Explorer does not pretend to be a Rubicon Trail challenger. It competes for market share with such soccer-mom friendly family-haulers as Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. These are all larger mid-size crossovers with room for six to seven passengers.
In the beginning, the Explorer was essentially a mid-size truck with part-time 4-wheel drive. It got more sophisticated over the years and now, similar to many other CUVs, is a unibody vehicle with front-biased 4WD system. (The rumour has it that the six-gen model to be introduced late 2019 or early 2020 will be rear-wheel biased.)
Whatever the case, the present Explorer is big, roomy, comfortable, adequately powerful and in case of the Platinum test-vehicle, posh enough to put shame to vehicles 20 to 30 grand more expensive.
Still, the Explorer is not inexpensive. The base XLT model demands $42,999 before taxes and mandatory gouging. It is followed by Limited ($50,399), Sport ($54,499) and the top-of-the-line Platinum ($60,599).
The XLT and Limited are motivated by either the 2.3 litre turbo (Ecoboost) four that puts out 280 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque or the naturally aspirated 3.5 litre V6 good for 290 horses and 255 lb-ft of twist.
Differentiating the Sport and Platinum from the lower trims is the turbo-charged 3.5 litre V6 that pumps out healthy 365 ponies and 350 lb-ft of tire-chirping torque. All power-plants are mated to smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.
As well, the sophisticated 4WD system makes calibrations for asphalt, snow, mud, sand, gravel and such. It also has high and low settings and can be locked for even more traction.
The Platinum model test-driven by this writer boasts commanding view of the road, plush and sophisticated interior, comfortable and supportive leather seats, second-row captain chairs, panoramic sunroof, power foldable third-row seats, premium audio, easy-to-use infotainment system and all the requisite electronic nannies.
Smooth, quiet and powerful is the 3.5 litre Ecoboost V6. It is a potent engine that, however, does not necessarily wants to be rushed. I’m not saying there’s a discernible turbo-lag; it’s just that the motor seems to have a naturally laid-back disposition. Stomp on the brake pedal and you’ll know you’re driving a heavy vehicle. One quickly gets used to this, but the Explorer is no ‘sport utility’ in the sense of Porsche Macan or Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
In fact, the Explorer’s steering feels somewhat like those over-boosted ones of the Seventies Lincolns and Cadillacs. Then again, you don’t buy the Explorer for its handling prowess or the traffic-light drag race honours.
No, the Explorer is a quintessential suburban vehicle and it serves its purpose very well… nothing wrong with that. (James Park is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.)
2018 Ford Explorer Platinum
Engine: 3.5 litre turbo V6
Power: 365 hp/350 lb-ft
Transmission: 6 spd auto
Fuel: 15.2 litres per 100km (city), 10.9 litres (highway)
Best: roomy and comfortable
Worst: bit pricey, handling
Competition: Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder
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