By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.5
Twenty-odd years ago, Ford's Explorer introduced America to the new wagon, a truck-based SUV large enough to carry the family and all their gear, but not much larger than average mid-size sedan of the day. Over its long run the Explorer had its up and downs, but while the Explorer name carries on into the 21st century, the vehicle that now wears it couldn't be more different from the original. Instead of a truck chassis, the Explorer is wrapped in a unit body, meaning its construction is stamped and welded into a single frame making it both lighter and stronger. The 2012 Ford Explorer can still hold seven passengers or any number of bulky items, but its interior is now more sophisticated, as is its suspension, engine and available all-wheel-drive system. Set to do battle with the Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse, the Explorer has its work cut out for it. And, where the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee offer a powerful V8 engine, no such muscle exists under the Explorer's hood. That's because Ford has chosen to go a more economical route, offering a V6 and a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that provide plenty of power with superior fuel economy. The Explorer also relies on a host of innovative electronic and technology triumphs that help it keep one step ahead of the competition. Ironically, the one vehicle that stands to lose market share to the Explorer is its own sibling, the Ford Flex.
You'll like the 2012 Ford Explorer if you seek the tall ride height and useful interior space provided by a traditional mid-size SUV, but not the poor handling and fuel economy penalty. The 2012 Explorer is exceptionally well mannered, has a beautifully designed interior and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
While the 2012 Ford Explorer's available four-wheel-drive (4WD) system is one of the most versatile Ford has produced, it is not intended for serious off-roading. Those who need to tow more than 5,000 pounds will have to look to the Explorer's V8-powered competitors.
Ford's EcoBoost 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is added to the front-wheel-drive Explorer's option list. The EcoBoost engine produces 240 horsepower when fed premium fuel and is expected to return fuel economy figures in the high 20s.
Driving Impressions It takes only a few minutes behind the wheel of the 2012 Ford Explorer to realize this is no old-fashioned truck-based SUV. The stiff body banishes squeaks and rattles from...the passenger compartment, while the adept suspension aided by Ford's Curve Control system tackles winding roads like a lithe sports sedan. Match that with a bounty of standard computer-controlled handling aids, impressively weighted electrically-boosted power steering and more than capable anti-lock disc brakes, and the Explorer turns in a world-class open-road experience. Our short time testing the Terrain Management 4-wheel-drive system netted some pretty impressive results, especially considering the Explorer's modest 7.6 inches of ground clearance and somewhat soft suspension. Still, we wouldn't put this vehicle up against a Toyota 4Runner, for example, whose body-on-frame architecture and hi/lo transfer case make it more conducive to serious off-road challenges. Then again, few truck-based SUVs can match the 2012 Explorer's outstanding fuel economy, exceptional cabin comfort, user-focused functionality plus class-leading connectivity, all of which make the Ford Explorer a most accommodating travel mate.
My Ford Touch
This latest and most capable version of Ford's driver-connect technology is standard on the Explorer Limited and available on the XLT. It utilizes an even more advanced and expanded version of the automaker's SYNC voice-command system to allow and facilitate a broader range of input commands for the audio, navigation, climate control and phone systems.
A world-exclusive, this standard safety enhancement automatically senses when the vehicle is entering a given corner too quickly and automatically engages throttle and braking intervention to help it maintain the desired driving path.
Look inside a Toyota 4Runner or Nissan Pathfinder and you'll find the same dash and door panels as in their pickup truck counterparts. But, look inside the 2012 Ford Explorer and you'll see something entirely different. The elegant cabin is awash in high-quality, soft-touch surfaces, with careful attention to detail found in the most minute places. The Explorer's instrument cluster is clean and simple on the base models, and on XLT and Limited can be upgraded to include the MyFord Touch package that features configurable LCD screens in place of the traditional analog gauges. Features like the media hub, four 12-volt outlets and numerous storage spots speak to the needs of today's mobile electronics, while supportive seats in all three rows provide plenty of room for adults. At the rear, a single-piece rear liftgate opens to expose 15.7 cubic feet of cargo space, which can be expanded to a maximum of 80.7 cubic feet by folding down both rows of rear seats.
Where the Explorers of old were easily identified by their square edges and boxy upright cabins, the 2012 Explorer displays a different attitude. The lines are more elegant and the boldly rakish front end sets the tone for the rest of the Explorer's design, which includes reverse-raked C-pillars and blacked-out A-, B-, and D-pillars. The Explorer's tall doors and lower roof give it a slick, almost gangster look that mirrors the Ford Taurus, but the design is an optical illusion because there is plenty of head room inside as well as ground clearance below (7.6 inches to be exact). The Explorer's wide track benefits interior occupants with more hip and shoulder room, as well as greatly aids in improved handling and cornering. Finishing the exterior embellishments are standard 17-inch wheels on the base models, with 18-inchers on the XLT and massive 20-inch alloys on the Limited models.
In addition to its 290-horsepower V6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission, the base 2012 Ford Explorer boasts numerous power assists, MyFord driver connectivity, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with media hub, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering column and more. The XLT adds interior/exterior trim embellishments, auto headlights, foglights, 18-inch wheels/tires, rearview camera with zoom function, premium cloth upholstery, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, SecuriCode keyless-entry pad and the SelectShift feature. Leather-upholstered, the Limited gets all that and the XLT's Driver Connect and Comfort Packages – plus a Sony premium audio system with HD Radio. Safety items include AdvanceTrak with Roll Stability Control and Curve Control, Hill Start Assist, anti-lock brakes (ABS), front/front-side/side-curtain airbags and a rollover sensor.
All Explorers offer four-wheel drive (4WD) with multi-mode Terrain Management System and Hill Descent Control. Base model upgrades include SIRIUS Satellite Radio and a tow-prep package while XLT buyers can add the Driver Connect (MyFord Touch/SYNC, premium audio, dual-zone climate control, and rearview camera) and Comfort Packages (all that plus heated leather seats). The Limited's Luxury Seating Package (perforated leather, heated/cooled front buckets, power-folding third-row seat, power liftgate and voice-activated navigation system) is available with/without the 302A Group (Blind Spot Information System, adaptive cruise control, Auto Park, HID headlamps and rain-sensing wipers). Single XLT/Limited options include navigation, dual-panel power moonroof, power liftgate, inflatable second-row outboard seatbelts and the blind spot system.
The 2012 Explorer's standard engine is Ford's high-tech 3.5-liter Ti-VCT (twin-independent variable camshaft timing) V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Teamed to a 6-speed automatic, this engine earns a class-leading 17/25 mpg city/highway EPA numbers in front-drive Explorers and 17/23 mpg marks in the 4WD versions; it also serves up 60 mph in roughly 8.0 seconds and gives the Explorer a 5,000-pound max-tow rating. Optional on front-drive models is the new 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine that churns out 240 ponies and 270 pound-feet of twist, but is recommended to run on premium fuel. Fuel economy ratings for the EcoBoost are an estimated 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
2.0-liter turbocharged in-line 4
240 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
270 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28
290 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
255 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/25 (FWD), 17/23 (4WD)
By Scott on Thursday, April 03, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 16,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Dependable, comfortable, awesome in the snow!"
Cons: "Wish I could have afforded more options..."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I would recommend this vehicle for several reasons. This vehicle provides a smooth and comfortable ride. I travel approx. 600 miles a week for my job. I am currently assigned to a region in the USA which has an abundance of snow and bitter cold temperatures. This vehicle has never had trouble despite seeing numerous others along the side of the road! In my opinion, it's the overall best buy for a SUV."
3 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By Ford Dude on Friday, March 21, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,741overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Acceleration, better gas mileage, luxury, quality"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I traded my 2002 Explorer for a newer model because the one I've drove and owned for 12 years was trouble free there wasn't any mechanical problems was an reliable SUV. Now I am happy with my 2014 Explorer its best in more technology features includes my FordTouch is best with interface and controls are really neat every available option fully loaded on Platinum package bought on this model. The SUV has more acceleration with great gas mileage, comfortable seats, heated seats, navigation, dual panoramic moon roof, moving object detection and much more. I love my 2nd Explorer being more restyled and it rides better given me a quieter drive and upgraded interior on everything so best on my Explorer. There are lots of room, great features and sync system is awesome too looks exactly like a BMW having LED lights and top of the line in its new quality."
4 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By jcorcione on Thursday, March 13, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 60,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great Ride quality"
Cons: "A bit pricey NAV should come standard."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"We really love the explorer. It really has an exceptional ride quality I was not expecting. A pleasure to drive. We had some issues with the APM which is part of the SYNC system and have had several software upgrades to the unit (covered under warranty) other than that we have been very pleased with the vehicle with regard to ride, comfort and quality. We plan on trading the vehicle in on an explorer sport."
7 people out of 10 found this review helpful
By Johnny W on Wednesday, March 12, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 33,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Build quality, power, quiet, good handling for SUV"
Cons: "Touch screen takes getting used to"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Comfortable, reliable, easy-to-use AWD system. Mileage decent for an SUV -- I get close to 21 MPG overall. Very quiet and solid on the highway, adequate off road but, to me, not the kind of vehicle you take way off road into the deep woods. Some people don't like MyFord Touch -- I never found it difficult to use, but it does have some quirks that take getting used to. SYNC, on the other hand, is a real plus."
4 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By explorer owner on Saturday, February 15, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 35,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "great safety and comfortable"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"This is my first suv. I have a 2012 and was rear ended by someone going at least 50 mph. I ended up having herniated disks in my neck and a torn rotator cuff in each shoulder. If it wasn't for the ford explorer, I might not be here today to tell this story."
By Bubba on Tuesday, February 04, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 45,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Love it"
Cons: "Wish my wife would let me use it more"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Bought this car because my wife had to have it. Is was a little nervousness because it was one of the first ones out. It has been a good car haven't had any probs with 46000 miles . It rides good had plenty of power and all the bells and whistles took it hunting and was amazed where it would go and what it would climb. Great SUV ford u guys really surprised me"
5 people out of 7 found this review helpful