Given that Ford offers this same engine with a pair of turbochargers in both the Taurus and Flex, we can’t understand why the Ecoboost V6 engine isn’t available in the Explorer. Well, there is an Ecoboost engine available, but it’s a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine, which might allow for some impressive EPA mileage figures, but we don’t imagine the performance will be any better in real world driving.
Speaking of mileage, having an underpowered engine apparently doesn’t help much at the gas pump, as the Explorer only netted us around 18 mpg. Lest you think we’re just a bunch of lead-footed hooligans, the EPA gives the Explorer a 19 mpg combined rating, which is disappointing given how uninspiring the acceleration is.
On the plus side, the Explorer proved to be a very comfortable highway cruiser. The suspension is well sorted and provides a plush ride without giving away much in the corners. Steering is rather light and therefore feels disconnected at speed, but this made for easy maneuvering when parking. With wide, low-profile all-season tires mounted on 20-inch rims, the Explorer even handles okay when the road gets windy. Push a bit too hard and she’ll start to plow sideways, at which point the stability control rapidly intervenes.
We decided to test the Explorer’s off-road capability a few hours after we rolled into camp. We loaded up with 6 adults, a bunch of cameras, and some lights, and set out to shave a few miles off of the hike up to the scenic Sierra Buttes, so we could still catch the sun setting over the mountains. The first few miles involved traveling down a fairly level fire road, which the Explorer easily handled, but then we encountered a steep left turn and a sign that stated “4-wheel drive with high-clearance recommended.” We only made it 50 feet past the sign.
Although Ford gave the Explorer a fancy Terrain Management System, like what you’d find in a Land Rover, the reality is that this is one SUV you’ll want to leave at home when things gets rugged. Most of the fault lies with the tires, which feature treads that are designed for highway cruising, not crawling up a steep slope. The suspension also seems to lack the travel needed to allow the tires to really track the terrain, especially when there are sizable dips and drops in the road.