The iconic SUV for the modern family

Okay, mom and dad – you need a vehicle that can carry six or seven people, but isn’t a minivan. What left on the menu? Three-row crossovers and SUVs, of course. And which SUV has been SUVing longer than most? Yep, the Ford Explorer. It debuted back in 1991 and has evolved from a utilitarian two-row brute to a plush, luxury-lined, power-everything family hauler. The current generation has been around since 2011 and received a mid-cycle refresh for 2016, which brought the high-end Platinum trim with Lincoln-like levels of refinement and the 365-horsepower 3.5-liter EcoBoost.

Nothing changes for 2017, but that didn’t stop me from spending a week with Ford’s grandest mid-size SUV. The Explorer is sandwiched between the smaller Ford Edge and the body-on-frame, F-150-based Ford Expedition. The Platinum trim comes equipped with nearly every major option as standard, only leaving customers to choose from the $695 second-row bucket seats, the accompanying $150 center console, and the $1,995 rear-seat entertainment package. Fitted with all but the rear TVs, my Ruby Red tester stickered at $55,420. That’s a sizable price for a family hauler, but few SUVs come packed with such utility mixed with luxury backed by a name with heritage.

Continue reading for the full driven review.

  • 2017 Ford Explorer – Driven
  • Year:
    2017
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V6
  • Transmission:
    six-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    365 @ 5500
  • MPG(Cty):
    16
  • MPG(Hwy):
    22
  • Torque @ RPM:
    350 @ 3500
  • Displacement:
    3.5 L
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:
  • Overall:
    8.2/10

Video Review

Exterior

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The 2017 Explorer’s appearance is still fresh, especially when compared to the 2011-2015 models.

Only a year old, the 2017 Explorer’s appearance is still fresh, especially when compared to the 2011-2015 models. As usual with mid-cycle updates, the biggest changes happened with the Explorer’s front fascia. The grille, bumper, headlights, and fog lights were all new for 2016. In person, the Explorer looks clean, muscular, yet reserved. It isn’t overbearing and hardly ostentatious, despite its upscale interior. Folks who enjoy flying under the radar and steering clear of gawking eyes will appreciate the Explorers low-key aesthetics.

The Platinum trim brings a handful of changes over the lower trim levels. Foremost is the satin chrome egg crate grille. Its mesh is more condensed than the grille inserts shared on the base Explorer, XLT, and Limited. (The Sport trim has a blacked-out grille.) The Platinum also boasts handsome 20-inch wheels with machined faces and painted pockets. They come wrapped in Hankook Ventus S1 Noble 2 all-season tires sized at 255/50R20. The side mirrors come capped with satin chrome, as well.

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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Out back, the Explorer’s appearance is familiar, with only the taillights undergoing a change in 2016.

Out back, the Explorer’s appearance is familiar, with only the taillights undergoing a change in 2016. As for the Platinum trim, it shares the Sport trim’s oval tailpipes, helping indicate the Platinum’s use of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. And despite its affinity for the finer things, the Platinum still gets the Explorer’s black plastic trim along its bottom edge and wheel wells. It does help give the SUV a more rugged stance, though the Explorer isn’t built to tackle extreme terrain.

Utility wise, the Explorer Platinum comes standard with a Class III trailer towing package, roof rack side rails, and Ford’s awesome driver door keypad. The trailering package comes with both four- and seven-pin wiring connections and Trailer Sway Control for a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds and a max tongue weight of 500 pounds. Ground clearance measures 8.3 inches.

Overall, the Explorer is a sharp-looking SUV with attractive details and baked-in utility that most families should find more than appealing.

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase (Inches) 112.8
Length (Inches) 198.3
Height (Inches) 70
Width - Excluding Mirrors (Inches) 78.9
Width - Including Mirrors (Inches) 90.2
Width - Mirrors Folded (Inches) 82.5
Front Track (Inches) 67
Rear Track (Inches) 67
Front Overhang (Inches) 38.8
Rear Overhang (Inches) 46.7
Approach Angle (degrees) (Inches) 15.6
Departure Angle (degrees) (Inches) 20.9

Interior

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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Despite the few faults, the Explorer Platinum proved to be a great family hauler.

The Ford Explorer comes standard with seating for seven in a 2+3+2 configuration. Optionally, second-row buckets seats can be had in all but the base trim level. A center console can then fill the space between the seats for added storage space and two extra cup holders.

Selecting the Platinum trim makes the 600A Option Group come standard, as well as the Nirvana Leather with quilted inserts, a 500-Watt Sony sound system, and the Twin Panel moonroof. Other handy features include the Hands-Free Liftgate, power-folding 50/50-split third-row seats, power-tumbling second-row seats, heated outboard seats in the first two rows, vented front seats, tri-zone climate controls with rear auxiliary controls, ambient lighting, and of course, Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment and navigation system. Basically, the Explorer Platinum comes with every common and modern luxury and convenience feature. About the only tech feature I missed was a Head-Up display and door lock/unlock controls on the rear exterior door handles.

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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Comfort is good in all seating positions with a few exceptions. The front seats lack height adjustment at the front of the bottom cushion. This means if you want to sit higher, the seat pivots upward at the front mounting points, which makes it feel like you’ll be tumped forward. Second, full-size adults will find legroom in the third row a bit cramped. This is common in the Explorer’s size category. Short trips under an hour are tolerable and kids should have plenty of room. Second row comfort is top-notch, however, with both fore and aft adjustment, a reclining seatback, tons of headroom, heated cushions, and access to HVAC controls, two UBS ports, and a 110-volt household power outlet.

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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Being an SUV, the Explorer’s ability to swallow cargo is important. Thankfully, it offers plenty of room. There is 21 cubic feet behind the third row and 80 cubic feet with both second and third rows folded flat. One disadvantage to having the second-row bucket seats and center console is that the console sticks up above the load floor with the seats folded. This means large, flat objects like plywood will be resting on the console rather than the floor.

Up front, the driver gets easy-to-use controls. The steering wheel has two five-button keypads for controlling the gauge cluster screens, along with controls for radio volume, phone dialing and hang-up, voice commands, and the adaptive cruise control. The HVAC controls are intuitive, though their smallish size does require a glance down for proper finger placement. Thankfully, that’s not the case with temperature and fan speed controls. Front and center is the radio volume knob and power button, making it incredibly easy to adjust volume levels without looking.

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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Ford’s current infotainment system, SYNC 3, is a vast improvement over prior versions. Its graphic interface is intuitive and easy to control. The screen responds to light touches and isn’t easily confused. Load times for apps is very quick, though navigation takes a second longer to load, understandably due to its communication with orbiting satellites. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are present.

Fit and finish are pretty good in the Explorer Platinum. The leather feels supple yet thick enough not to easily tear. Leather extends to the dash and door panels, lending a higher level of lux than some of its competitors. Real wood and metal accents add contrast to the Ebony Black interior color. Medium Soft Ceramic is the other optional color. I did notice a few squeaks and rattles in the interior, despite my testers 8,000-mile odometer reading. More concerning was the loose carpet and falling wires under the third-row seats.

Last but not least in my complaint box are the Inflatable Rear Safety Belts in the second row. In theory, the belts help distribute crash forces across a wider area of the wearers chest via an airbag, yet in daily use, the seatbelts are thicker and difficult for smaller kids to use. My five-year-old had a hard time pulling against the still retractors and latching the large buckle.

Despite the few faults, the Explorer Platinum proved to be a great family hauler thanks to its six-passenger seating, high comfort levels, and generous cargo space.

Interior Dimensions

Head Room - First Row (Inches) 41.4
Head Room - Second Row (Inches) 40.6
Head Room - Third Row (Inches) 37.8
Leg Room - First Row (Inches) 42.9
Leg Room - Second Row (Inches) 39.5
Leg Room - Third Row (Inches) 33.3
Hip Room - First Row (Inches) 57.3
Hip Room - Second Row (Inches) 56.8
Hip Room - Third Row (Inches) 40.7
Shoulder Room - First Row (Inches) 61.5
Shoulder Room - Second Row (Inches) 61
Shoulder Room - Third Row (Inches) 50.8

Drivetrain

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Drivetrain High Resolution
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The Explorer Platinum gets Ford’s well-loved 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. This all-aluminum, twin-turbo engine uses direct fuel injection and variable valve timing to generate 365 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 350 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. It comes mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a full-time AWD system.

The EcoBoost provides more than enough power to move the 4,901-pound Explorer, though it certainly doesn’t have the eagerness of a Mustang GT. Slamming the pedal to the floor is answered with a slight pause before the turbos spool up and the transmission drops a few gears. Once sending power to all four wheels, the Explorer feels quick for a non-performance-biased SUV. The transmission provides smooth shifts, both when tooling around town and when under heavy throttle. A sport mode and paddle shifters allow for more driver control, though the shifts aren’t overly responsive to inputs form the wheel-mounted paddles.

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The AWD system offers four modes: Normal, Mud & Rut, Sand, and Snow, Gravel, Grass. These are accessed via the rotary dial on the center console behind the gearshifter. Downhill Decent Control is also present. Make no mistake, the Explorer isn’t a hard-core off-roader. It rides on street-friendly tires, has no real underbody protection, has a low-hanging front clip, and offers no dedicated recovery points. It doesn’t have locking differentials or an adjustable-height suspension. Still, the Explorer is willing to travel most places 90 percent of its owners are even willing to dare try.

The 3.5-liter EcoBoost-powered Explorer Platinum is EPA-estimated to get 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 18 mpg combined. I averaged 17.5 mpg during my week of mixed driving. The Explorer is rated to tow 5,000 pounds and can be fitted with roof rails for overhead storage.

Drivetrain Specifications

Engine 3.5L EcoBoost V6
Drive type Intelligent 4WD
Engine type 3.5L Twin Turbocharged, Direct Injection Ecoboost V6
Transmission 6-speed SelectShift Automatic
Horsepower 365 HP @ 5,500 RPM
Torque 350 LB-FT @ 3,500 RPM
Fuel economy 16 city / 22 hwy / 18 combined

Safety Features

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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The 2017 Ford Explorer has a Five-Star overall safety rating from the National Highway traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it a Marginal rating for the small-overlap front crash test and Good ratings in the moderate-overlap front crash test, side impact, and roof strength. The front crash prevention system is rated a Basic, while the LATCH system’s ease-of-use is rated at Acceptable. The headlights, however, receive a Poor rating in the IIHS’ new-for-2017 evaluation of headlight performance.

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Interior High Resolution
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The Explorer Platinum does come with both active and passive safety systems. On the active side, it boasts Forward Collision Warning, blind spot monitoring, a rear-view camera with cross-traffic alert, and a 180-degree view forward facing camera. Passive systems include a full array of airbags. They are dual-stage front airbags, side impact airbags, front knee airbags, and Ford’s Safety Canopy side curtain airbags. Each seat has three-point seatbelts and the second row gets Ford’s Inflatable Safety Belts. Other items include traction and stability control, an individual tire pressure readout, automatic headlights with automatic high beams, and automatic windshield wipers.

NHTSA Crash Test Ratings Out of 5 stars
Frontal Driver 4
Frontal Passenger 5
Side Impact Front Seats 5
Side Impact Rear Seats 5
Rollover Risk 4
IIHS Safety Ratings Good, Acceptable, Marginal, Poor
Small Overlap Front Marginal
Moderate Overlap Front Good
Side Good
Roof Strength Good
Crash Avoidance & Mitigation Basic
Headlights Poor
LATCH ease of use Acceptable

Price

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The 2017 Ford Explorer starts at $31,660 in its most basic form. The mid-grade XLT starts at $33,775, while the luxury-minded Limited starts at $41,675 and the sporty Sport trim begins at $45,355. The range-topping Platinum trim carries a base price of $53,235. My Platinum-grade tester also came with a few options that slightly inflated its final MSRP.

Ruby Red Paint $395
Second Row Bucket Seats $695
Second Row Center Console $150

Add to that Ford’s $945 destination and deliver free, and my tester tipped the sale at $55,420.

Competition

2018 Chevrolet Traverse

2018 Chevrolet Traverse High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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2018 Chevrolet Traverse High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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The Chevy Traverse is all-new for the 2018 model year, getting a new chassis, new looks, a new interior, a new engine option, and better overall refinement. The update starts with the swanky new exterior that borrows inspiration from the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, though the front grille shares more with Chevy’s sedans. Premium touches like chrome accents along the side windows, large wheels, and LED exterior lighting give this family hauler a rich appearance. Inside, the Traverse offers room for eight in a 2+3+3 configuration. Second-row bucket seats are available, too. Power-folding seats help kiddos rearrange the furniture and cargo space is rated at 98.5 cubic-feet.

Powering most 2018 Traverse models is an updated 3.6-liter V-6 with 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The new-for-2018 Traverse RS trim gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making a paltry 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Both come mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission that powers the front wheel. AWD is optional. Sadly, the Traverse is devoid of any turbodiesel options, as neither the 2.8-liter Duramax nor the 1.6-liter turbodiesel used in the 2017 Chevy Equinox. This means the Explorer unquestionably wins the horsepower war against the Traverse.

Pricing for the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse starts at $30,875 for the base L trim and grows to $52,995 for the range-topping High Country trim.

Read our full review on the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse.

2017 Honda Pilot

2016 Honda Pilot Review Exterior
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2016 Honda Pilot Review Exterior
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The Honda Pilot is an extremely popular unibody, three-row crossover. Its clean exterior lines are familiar to Honda fans and the driver will appreciate the well-conceived instrumentation and controls. It offers room for eight people in a 2+3+3 configuration. Like the Explorer and Traverse, its second row can be optioned as bucket seats. A low, floor-mounted console offers two cup holders and open storage and is easily walked over. Folding armrests keep inboard elbows happy for second-row occupants. The third row does have room for three, but three across should only be reserved for kids. The Pilot has gobs of storage cubbies and places for the random stuff that somehow lives permanently in a familymobile. Cargo volume is rated at 16.5 cubic feet behind the third row to 83.9 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded.

Power comes the familiar 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6 making 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels. AWD is optional. The EPA estimates the FWD Pilot to get 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. Adding AWD decrease each category by one mpg.

Pricing for the 2017 Honda Pilot starts at $30,745 with AWD adding $1,800 across the trim lines, save for the range-topping Elite trim where it comes standard. Speaking of the Elite, it starts at $47,220.

Read our full review on the 2017 Honda Pilot.

Conclusion

2017 Ford Explorer – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The Ford Explorer is an iconic SUV turned unibody crossover. Despite its softening, the Explorer has gained more interior space, better creature comforts, high levels of technology, and a powerful EcoBoost engine. My 2017 Explorer Platinum proved itself a capable family vehicle with tons of roof for people in all three rows. Its intuitive driver controls make time behind the wheel a relaxed experience, even for those getting in for the first time. The SYNC 3 system is miles better than previous versions and ranks up there with Chevy’s MyLink and FCA’s Uconnect for user friendliness.

The mighty 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 is more than willing to move the Explorer, but doesn’t provide a sport car-like experience. It’s all about straight-line speed. Handling is good and body roll is well controlled, and visibility is good, despite the long dashboard and hood. Nevertheless, the Explorer is a willing companion on all roads short of a racetrack.

Despite some complaints with the interior, I grew to like the Explorer during its week in the driveway. It’s no wonder why Ford sells so many of them.

  • Leave it
    • * A few quaility concerns inside
    • * Inflatable seatbelts are hard for kids to use

References

2016 Ford Explorer High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Ford Explorer.

2018 Ford Explorer Sport High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Ford Explorer Sport.

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