Whenever I hear the word SUV, I immediately imagine a big, hulking 4x4 that can climb every mountain and ford every stream. Apart from that, another thing that pops into my head whenever someone mentions the word SUV is the Ford Explorer. Smaller than the Expedition, the Explorer is pretty much one of the most recognizable SUVs in the market, thanks to its distinct shape, proven performance and overall packaging.
The fifth-generation Explorer has been with us for quite a while now and is a regular sight on our roads. Updated for the 2016 model year, it was heavily redesigned inside and out and now comes with two new EcoBoost engines as well as an array of standard tech. For 2017, Ford gave the Explorer several minor updates including a new infotainment system and some tweaks to its driving dynamics.
Like the 2016 refresh, not much has changed in the 2017 model year update. While the Explorer didn't need much of a redesign, the new front end now looks more mature thanks to the sleeker headlights and a more prominent front grill. The C-shaped taillights have been given a once over and now conforms to the Explorer's more modern design. The 20-inch five-spoke alloys look the part and give the full-size crossover a nice touch.
Differentiating it from its V6 brethren are its exterior peripherals (grill, side mirror, roof rails, etc.) which get a different finish. Compared to the Explorer Sport, which gets the black treatment, the Limited has a shinier finish thanks to the array of brightwork. The front grill is painted silver and there are no black headlight surrounds. Also missing is the Explorer hood badge which comes as standard on the Sport. Finally, the roof rails, front and rear bumper garnish, and door handles get a faux metal finish.
If you're looking for space, the Explorer has acres of it. Given our average build and height, leg-, elbow- and headroom is very generous. Making the accomodations feel even more spacious is the panoramic glass roof that extends all the way to the second row seats. Needless to say, you won't feel claustrophobic inside the Explorer.
Both front seats are electrically adjustable, with the driver's side benefitting from memory function. Further enhancing the cabin experience are the climate-controlled seats with both heating and cooling functions. Speaking of cooling, the Explorer has dual-zone automatic climate control with a separate fan and temperature control for the rear occupants. The third-row Powerfold seats are perhaps my most favorite part of the Explorer. They can be set to various settings and can still hold a decent amount of luggage with the seats upright. Fold them down and one can pack an entire week's worth of bags at the back of the Explorer.
As for the cabin itself, I have always liked how Ford makes their interiors. The dashboard may appear daunting but it's actually designed ergonomically that your hands know where to go. The leather upholstery on the seats and steering wheel are of fine quality, as well as the soft-touch plastic that envelopes the Explorer. The front wraparound doors complement the overall cabin design, along with wood-style inserts, metal trim pieces and gloss plastic accents.
Like I've mentioned earlier, the old SYNC 2 MyTouch infotainment system has been replaced. In its stead is the more high-tech, simpler to navigate SYNC 3 system. Compared to the previous system, SYNC 3 is faster, more intuitive and has less clutter. Aside from the usual AM/FM radio, CD, USB, Aux and Bluetooth connectivity, the system also comes standard with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can even control the air-conditioning system from the touchscreen aside from the tactile buttons on the dash.
Expecting a huge V8 under the hood? Or maybe even a V6? Well you're in for a surprise as this particular Explorer is powered by a 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-four. It's not your typical four-cylinder as this engine comes with a twin-scroll turbo and benefits from direct injection too. It produces a healthy 274 PS and has more than enough pulling power thanks to 407 Nm of torque. A six-speed automatic sends power to the front wheels only as all-wheel-drive is only available in the top-spec Explorer Sport which gets the EcoBoost V6.
Having already driven the more powerful Explorer Sport, I was quite curious as to how the Limited model would perform. Despite its size, the engine was no slouch and has plenty of power on tap. Initial acceleration from the 2.3-liter mill is good and there was hardly any strain under heavy or light loads. Put the pedal to the metal and one can actually make the front tires chirp, so be mindful of your right foot. There is also the matter of torque steer which was quite evident on some occasions. But thanks to safety features like traction and roll stability control, the Explorer remained stable on its feet.
The six-speed automatic goes through the gears smoothly and does a good job of maintaining power from the mid to upper rev range. There is a hint of lag at low revs but the transmission does come with manual select which picks up the pace quicker. It even comes with paddle shifters which allows for quicker gear changing. As for fuel economy, the Explorer can average 7.5 km/l in the city. Out on the highway, one can expect it to return between 12.0 - 13.0 km/l. Not bad for a decent-sized four-cylinder turbo, I say.
For such a big vehicle, the Explorer is quite easy to drive. It's not exactly the kind of vehicle that one would expect to take corners with finesse, but then again, the Explorer is now a proper crossover through and through, thanks to its unibody construction. With the help of electronic power steering (EPS), maneuvering through the bends was quite easy. There was also plenty of road feel coming from the steering wheel, which was a welcome change as most EPS systems are rather numb.
Ride quality is also good, but don't expect it to be a Lincoln. While the Explorer does a nice job of absorbing road bumps and potholes, the unibody construction does mean it can get a bit bumpy when going over dirt or rough roads. Granted, the dampers and slightly thicker tires mean the Explorer in Limited trim is still a great long-distance cruiser despite having 20-inch alloy wheels as stock.
Wider and longer than most full-size crossovers, getting to grips with the Explorer around tight city streets can be unnerving. But thanks to proximity sensors placed around the vehicle, there is some peace of mind when traversing narrow roads. Ford even threw in a multi-view front camera as well as a reverse camera for easier parking and maneuvering.
Retailing for a cool Php 2,545,000, the Explorer in Limited in trim is priced competitively and has a lot going for it. Aimed directly against the likes of the Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, the Explorer comes fully loaded with high-tech features, creature comforts as well as a turbocharged four-cylinder for a lot less.
Those curious about its available tech, here is a short rundown; hill-launch assist, blind-spot information system, rear cross traffic alert, cruise control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, roll stability control, inflatable rear seatbelts, seven airbags, front park assist, reverse sensing system, tire pressure monitoring system and a keyless entry keypad for the driver's side door.
For those looking for a seven-seat family hauler that is filled to brim with standard amenities, take a close look at the Ford Explorer.