Ford Explorer Review

New construction, new gadgetry, reassuringly familiar

By Shahzad Sheikh

The Ford Explorer used to be an old-skool body-on-frame 4×4, which made it rugged and rather adept at leaving the tarmac especially with a V8 up front. Let’s face it though, most owners would use it for pulling stuff or taking the kids to the Malls. In tacit recognition of this fact, Ford has rethunk the new Explorer.

Now it’s a more car-like monocoque or unibody structure and gone is the V8 – the largest engine it gets is the one on this test car, a 3.5-litre V6. Also ditched is the boxy box-shaped styling and instead in comes a sleek, swept-back profile. There’s hints of Range Rover about it, which is not entirely surprising given that the chief design engineer is Jim Holland, who also worked at Land Rover and was partly responsible for how the current Range Rover looks.

It’s a handsome thing now, the lines nicely bouncing and refracting the light off the car. If you buy one, go for strong dark colours, the blue of the test car looked particularly fetching. There’s even some attractive detailing on this car such as the drilled and chromed vines in the grille. It’s got a distinctive face and there’s definitely a certain elegance and style with this car.

But a word to the wary should you be thinking of heading for the dunes. Take a look it is at the front, note the low-profile tyres, this is car that could go off-road – in fact it has a Terrain Management System operated via a knob on the centre console, which allows you to select the terrain your on. The computer will then help you along your way, and 290bhp and 255lb ft of torque should keep you motoring along. Nonetheless you’re best off sticking to mild off-road stuff, especially if you don’t want to spoil its good looks.

Keep it in the family

Allocate family-moving duties however and pack it full of stuff and it’s a different story. There are three rows of seats in a two-three-two configuration. The tailgate is electric (and it’s open height can be adjusted) and the split rear seats can be made to do all manner of contortions at the push of two buttons – that is they fold down or flip back around and disappear into a cavity – which otherwise provides decent cargo space.

Those rear seats are best for kids, but the middle row is comfortable and not entirely claustrophobic. Up front it’s very spacious and if you had a cat handy, you could just about swing it in here. The upholstery looks inviting, although maybe not in the two-tone chocolate of the test car. More noticeable for their absence are a mass of buttons. It’s a refreshingly clean and uncluttered – perhaps too sparse.

Sci-fi driver interface

Press the starter button and two screens either side of the analogue speedometer light up and present you with various options including a compass and a rev counter. Then the main screen comes on and presents you with a very computery display – that’s the ‘Synch with Microsoft ‘ setup. Below that is a Sony logo claiming the entertainment and sound system as its own.

And there’s a holographic logo that pops up just over the cupholders and reads Red Bull. Not really, but hey, with all this product placement going on, they’re missing a trick there!

Anyway start to adjust things like the climate, stereo etc and you realise that it’s all operated by touch. Everything. Both on the screen and on the Sony stuff below. Which is fine, but there’s no haptic sensation, and you can’t employ muscle memory to instinctively find the button you need. No problem though, because it also has one of the best voice activated systems around, until you get personal, then it just shuts up and bings at you instead.

There are a couple of issues here, if you’re not entirely computer-literate, this system might scare you off, especially as (at least on this test car) it seems to have a propensity to crash, and a couple of times we had to resort to shutting everything off and then restarting to get it to boot up again properly. Probably some bugs that have been ironed out by now. Also the hazard button should always be a big, bright and simple panic button that you can stab and activate instantly. In this car it isn’t, it took me a moment or two of stroking and fondling before I could switch it on.

Plenty of punch

V8? Pah, who needs a V8? This thing has remarkably decent acceleration, and a good dollop of torque. So around town it acquits itself well, and on the motorways it’s a fine cruiser. The handling is good for a largish SUV, it feels well planted, keeps body roll in check which of course means happy passengers who will also appreciate the decent ride quality.

The steering is light and easy but isn’t entirely overloaded with feedback, which is fine, because you wouldn’t want it to be in this car. Interestingly though, you do get a sense of driving not a crossover but a full-sized SUV from the driver’s seat. A bit of comforting throwback for owners of the previous Explorer, but it took me by surprise.

Overall though, a handsome and capacious SUV perfect for largish families and reasonable afford with prices starting from AED135,000 – although that is base price. Nobody buys base. Our test car was the range-topping Limited at AED189,000 (although for some reason there was no Sat Nav on our car) but the slightly lower-specced Limited just below this for AED180,000 sounds like the one to go for.

Ford Explorer
Price: $51,360 (AED189,000)
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 290bhp @ 6500rpm, 263lb ft @ 1600-5000rpm
Performance: 8.1secs 0-100kph, 300kph, 10.2L/100
Transmission: six-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Weight: 2130kg

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