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Friday, May 31, 2013

2013 Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer trades some trail-riding and towing for on-road driving lessons, and comes out fluent. A crossover with some SUV styleExcellent head and shoulder roomFun handling for a crossover starts with steeringNot much dirt under its nailsA steep learning curve for MyFord TouchTurbo four's an extra-cost optionChoose One of the Styles Below Gas V6, 3.5L

The Ford Explorer is one of the best-known SUVs on the planet, but it's not technically a rugged SUV anymore. Instead, the most recent Explorer is a crossover, sharing much of its running gear with Ford's large sedans–and that makes it an excellent family wagon with all-weather ability.

The boon that change brings can be measured on the road. The current Ford Explorer gets better gas mileage than any Explorer before it, has better ride and handling, and brings so many new infotainment features, it leaps past almost all its competition, save for its archrival from Jeep, the trail-ready Grand Cherokee.

The Explorer still looks reassuringly ute-like, though its rounded corners and subtle details register on a carlike plane, while the interior does its best impression of a Taurus sedan. So does its performance, totally transformed in this generation, buttoned down to sport-wagon standards. There's a base V-6 and six-speed automatic with front-wheel drive that delivers benign and predictable handling, with all-wheel drive as an option. Experimenting with the optional (and more expensive) turbo four is best left to those who don't carry people or their heavier possessions very often. The grunty Explorer Sport? It's quicker than any V-8 Explorer in the past, and makes for a swifter, tauter, more appealing driving machine than Ford's own Taurus SHO, with better visibility and interior room to boot.

Since it shares running gear with the likes of the Flex, even the Taurus, the new Explorer can't quite hit the trails with the likes of the Grand Cherokee. That leaves it more equipped to excel at on-road handling, which it does convincingly with quick steering and terrific ride control that's due in equal part to an independent suspension and its still-substantial curb weight. 

The Explorer is happiest when it's behaving on the highway--but it's more than willing to get a little dirty when you want to, with a Terrain Management system that controls stability and other systems to limit wheelspin while maintaining a 5000-pound towing capacity. It's definitely Explorer Lite compared to the distant past, but it's still quite capable, in the wider view.

Today's Explorer can carry up to seven passengers, and adults will be fine in the front five seats, with truly excellent head and shoulder room. It sits taller than Ford's own Flex, and access to the third-row seat is tight. Cargo space comes within a few cubic feet, though, and the Explorer's utility doesn't seem diminished at all with time--if anything, the power-folding seats and power tailgate have made it easier to stuff with big-box finds.

The Explorer is one of the safest vehicles Ford builds, with inflatable rear seat belts and rearview cameras and blind-spot detectors. It also woos gearheads of another kind with MyFord Touch, the convoluted but promising system that uses voice, button or touchscreen control to govern infotainment and other vehicle functions.

And in truth, the 2013 Ford Explorer does what the wide majority of us want to do in a crossover. It makes plenty of room for lots of people, or lots of stuff, and it does it much more efficiently than it ever did in the past. It holds on to those mud-running bona fides too--even if they probably were only ever weekend ambitions for most of their suburban owners.

  A crossover with some SUV styleExcellent head and shoulder roomFun handling for a crossover starts with steeringMyFord Touch is truly innovativeBetter gas mileage for most modelsNot much dirt under its nailsA steep learning curve for MyFord TouchTurbo four's an extra-cost optionMiddle seat needs a lift

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