In 2011, Ford transformed the Explorer (together with many of their other vehicles) from a truck-structured design into a more car-like SUV. This transformation brought the Explorer to the attention of new customers who wouldn't buy a truck but who were partial to larger-than-life, up-town vehicles like the Land Rover.
If you happen to believe that size matters, then the new 2012 Ford Explorer was built for you. Getting up close to this beast can be a little unnerving, but once you adjust you'll notice the sleek and sporty influence of its SUV genes. The three-bar, perforated horizontal grille gives the Explorer a sturdy, almost imposing aspect, but the headlights and design lines show off its modern, sporty physique. If this is what the new breed of crossover looks like, there's no doubt many buyers will be breaking through to the other side and getting behind the wheel of one.
The Explorer has evolved beyond the old V8 and performs admirably on either a V6 or a brand-new, turbocharged, four-cylinder 2.0L EcoBoost engine. It can churn 290 horses and 255 lb-ft of torque, easily going toe to toe with its competitors. The drive is very smooth and the steering is quick and easy, which is surprising given the Explorer's size. Throughout my week with the tester I didn't feel like I was driving a vehicle that weighs in excess of 4,700 pounds; the true dimensions don't fully register until you're on the outside.
And to be sure, the Explorer is truly a monster truck of an SUV. But whereas in Land Rovers and Range Rovers it's hard to overlook the fact that you're elevated above everyone on the road, in the Explorer the impression is less pronounced. Still, as you hoist yourself into this behemoth, you'll feel like Jonah in the whale: the spaciousness of the interior is striking, spanning three rows of comfy grey leather seating. The grey leather theme, which is consistent across the Explorer's dash, doors, and steering wheel, creates a look that is elegant without being indulgent. The Explorer is also equipped with MyFord Touch, and the options for temperature and tuning are much easier to find and manipulate than in previous Ford vehicles.
During the week, the Explorer's fuel economy registered at 13.6 L/ 100km, better than the LR4 and in line with the GMC Acadia, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot. A perfect complement to any road trip, the Explorer's dual sunroof can tilt, slide, and be covered whenever you like. Stowing is also a cinch, with three push-button-operated stow, normal, and fold options to choose from. The stow button automatically transforms the third-row seats into an enormous trunk with over 80 cubic feet of cargo space.
The Explorer has long been known for its off-roading capabilities, but this latest incarnation has been built for those who tend to stay in the city limits. However, it does offer four distinct driving modes for mud, snow, sand, and hill descent if you should find yourself overcome by the urge to leave the beaten path.
Overall, the Explorer is an impressive entry in the crossover category. It has plenty of competition, but it starts cheaper, looks better, and is more powerful than the Acadia or the Highlander. In its size, shape, and tech capabilities it resembles the Range Rover, so if you're an admirer of that vehicle but looking for a cheaper, more fuel-efficient alternative, you won't find much to complain about here.