Ford's latest Explorer is a far different vehicle than those of the generations before it. What used to be a rough and rugged truck-based vehicle is now a sleeker, softer and more fuel-efficient crossoverSUV. Gone are features like a 2-speed transfer case and V8 engine that enabled the old Explorer to climb mountains. In their place are more pragmatic features like a rearview camera and the MyFord infotainment system that help parents navigate school parking lots and keep the kids entertained once loaded in back. Like rivals such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, Dodge Durango, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot, the 3-row 2014 Explorer happily accommodates families. It's not nearly as nimble as some rivals, but the Explorer has an adventurous spirit and snazzy off-road smarts.
You'll Like This Car If...
If you're seeking a roomy, versatile and technically advanced SUV that's more comfortable and fuel-efficient than truck-based vehicles like the Chevrolet Tahoe or, well, a 2010 Explorer, Ford's latest will fit the bill.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If you want your family hauler to feel nimble (at least for this class), check out the Mazda CX-9 or Honda Pilot. Both are easier to maneuver when parking lots get crowded and lighter on their feet when roads turn twisty.
Only minor changes are in store for the 2014 Explorer. Among them are automatic on/off headlights with wiper activation that become standard on all models, and 2nd-row heated seats that are now included in Limited models.
Driving the Explorer
Just as the latest-gen Explorer shed its old skin for a more refined, contemporary image, and so it goes when you hop behind the wheel. The Explorer feels more like...
... a soft-sprung sedan than a rigid truck because its underpinnings are essentially the former. This makes for a comfortable – bordering on lumbering – ride. Visibility to the front and sides is good thanks to a commanding view from the driver's seat. But rearward visibility suffers from blind spots. We quickly became thankful for the wide-view mirrors and available blind-spot monitoring system. The 2014 Explorer's base, 290-horsepower V6 feels adequate for routine driving, but has to work hard to move this vehicle's 4,500-plus pounds up steeper hills. A lower-horsepower but higher-mileage 4-cylinder is available, as is a potent turbocharged V6 introduced in 2013 Explorer Sport models. Four-wheel-drive (4WD) models have the slick terrain-management system (see Favorite Features below for why we like it).
TWIN-TURBOCHARGED V6 ENGINE Introduced in 2013 in the range-topping Explorer Sport trim, this 365-horsepower engine provides much-appreciated power to Ford's big SUV while returning respectable fuel-economy figures.
TERRAIN MANAGEMENT SYSTEM Similar to the advanced system used in Land Rover vehicles, this feature enables drivers to optimize 4-wheel-drive Explorer models for snow, mud, or ruts with the twist of a dial.
2014 Ford Explorer Details
2014 Ford Explorer models feature three rows of seats and hold six or seven passengers depending on configuration. Even the 2-passenger third row is livable for adults. The second row features a 3-person bench or, and for added comfort, can be had with two bucket seats. Both rear rows fold nearly flat to create a vast 80.7 cubic feet of cargo area, and both have power-folding availability. The large front seats are split by a wide transmission tunnel with built-in armrests and two of the Explorer's eight cupholders. Seat material is cloth in lower trims and leather in higher versions.
While not as boxy as past versions, the 2014 Explorer still has an athletic presence thanks to well-defined sheet metal that's bolstered by bulges in just the right places. Of particular prominence are creases running along the sides just aft the front wheels that convey muscle and motion. At the rear is a one-piece liftgate. Below, dual exhaust tips lend a sporty look. Sport models are edgier with an ebony grille, darkened wheels, and headlights with blackout treatment. Wheels range in size from 17 to 20 inches.
The 2014 Ford Explorer is available in four trims: Base, XLT, Limited and Sport. Just over $30,000 for a base version buys you quite a bit of vehicle with a V6 engine, single-zone climate control with rear auxiliary climate control and power driver's seat. Standard audio is a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD system with aux and USB inputs. Walking up trim lines can net you leather, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, and Ford's Sync entertainment and communications system. Standard safety features include Roll Stability Control and Curve Control, the latter of which can slow the vehicle if it senses you're taking a corner too quickly.
Depending on the depth of your pockets, the Explorer can be a relatively basic people hauler or an amenity-filled technological thriller. Optional on V6 models is 4-wheel drive (standard on Sport editions) in place of front-wheel drive (FWD). The smaller, more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine can be had on all but Explorer Sport trims. Adaptive Cruise Control and blind-spot monitoring are available, as is a lane-departure system that can nudge you back into the lane should you wander. Rear-seat inflatable seatbelts are also noteworthy. The power liftgate with height adjustment is always appreciated when you're arms are full. Rear-seat passengers can be spoiled with a dual-screen DVD system and dual-panel moonroof.
Under the Hood
Three engine choices reside under the hood of the 2014 Explorer. Standard is the 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that is adequate for most peoples' needs, but not overwhelming. Optional is a smaller, turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine whose headline is a 28-mpg highway EPA rating. The top dog, exclusive to the Sport model, is the turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost good for 365 horsepower. All 2014 Explorer models have a 6-speed automatic transmission. Those with a V6 engine feature Ford's SelectShift version that enables drivers to shift gears manually. The souped-up Sport model takes that notion further with paddle shifters for those instances you want to mimic a racecar driver. All engines can run on regular unleaded, though premium is recommended for the EcoBoost variants. Tow rating is 2,000 pounds for 4-cylinder models and 5,000 pounds for V6 versions.
The 2014 Ford Explorer has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting at $30,495 for a base version with front-wheel drive. The mid-level XLT version starts at $33,495, and a top-trim Sport model is $41,675 before options. At these prices, the Explorer doesn't stray far from competitors such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot. Hyundai's new 7-passenger Santa Fe, meanwhile, starts a few hundred below the $30K mark. If you're just looking for a new, 3-row crossover SUV with a rock-bottom price, a basically equipped 7-seat Dodge Journey can be had in the low-$20,000 range. Before buying, be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price to ensure you get the best deal. In terms of resale value, the Explorer's value is predicted to hold up quite well with residuals ahead of the Dodge Durango, in line with the Traverse and Pilot, but below the Highlander.
"This vehicle has 68,000 miles and has already had over $5,000 worth of repair work done, air conditioner unit replaced, shock/strut mounts replaced, brake calipers froze and had to be replaced along with rotors and all new pads, transmission problems, extensive problems with the SYNC system."
Pros: "Enjoyable, comfortable drive. Lots of room."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"We have owned our Explorer fully loaded Limited for 1 1/2 years now and still LOVE it. This is the first Ford we have ever owned. It is a pleasure to drive it. Previously we have driven Toyota and GM cars. We looked at Ford because my brother owned an Escape and swore by it. We have 2 boys who come with a lot of sports equipment to haul around and teams to shuttle to practices. This SUV does it all and in style and comfort. On the highway it feels very solid and has good pickup for passing.
We have had NO issues at all with this car."