By Keith Buglewicz
KBB Expert Rating: 7.8
In the world of midsize 3-row crossover SUVs, the 2015 Ford Explorer remains a tough act to follow. While no longer the rugged off-roader of its ancestry, the Ford Explorer remains an important player in the market, particularly against other crossover SUVs like the Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, Dodge Durango, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot. Like those vehicles, the Explorer puts greater emphasis on on-road refinement with features like a rearview camera, a quiet and comfortable ride, and upscale options like a rear-seat entertainment system and MyFord Touch. While no longer a "real" off-roader, the Explorer's Terrain Response System ensures it can still tackle moderate off-road trails, proving this car-based crossover still has a little of its truck-based SUV DNA.
The 2015 Ford Explorer is a roomy, comfortable, versatile, and more fuel-efficient SUV than its truck-based ancestors, or even modern vehicles like the Chevy Tahoe. If that's what you need, the Explorer fits the bill.
KBB Expert Ratings
The 2015 Ford Explorer rolls into the new year with only one noteworthy change: a sport-appearance package that's available for the XLT model. It adds new 20-inch wheels, black body-side molding, and roof rails, along with dark Magnetic paint on the grille, mirror caps and liftgate.
From behind the wheel, the 2015 Ford Explorer feels much more like a car than an SUV. The comfortable and quiet ride isolates you from the road in the same...
... way as a luxury sedan, and the Explorer never bangs over bumps or rattles over railroad tracks like its truck-based forebears. With the 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine or the standard 3.5-liter V6, the Explorer is never speedy, but the twin-turbocharged V6 in the Explorer Sport gets this nearly 5,000-pound SUV moving quickly. While visibility to the front and sides is good, you'll be thankful for the wide-view side mirrors and blind-spot detection that compensate for the lousy view toward the rear. Likewise, that comfortable ride also means the Explorer lumbers around town, and its outward bulk makes it ponderous in parking lots. The 4-wheel-drive system offers a terrain-management system that helps this big SUV tackle various surfaces.
TWIN-TURBOCHARGED V6 ENGINE
The Explorer Sport comes with a 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine, and it's by far the best thing about the package. With the extra juice, the Explorer transforms from a lumbering brute into, well, a more fleet-footed brute. Surprisingly, fuel economy takes only a moderate hit compared to the standard V6.
TERRAIN MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
While the Explorer's hardcore off-road days are long gone, the Terrain Management System allows drivers to optimize the Explorer's 4-wheel-drive system for snow, mud, or ruts with the twist of a dial.
For the most part, the 2015 Ford Explorer puts its bulk to good use inside, offering three rows of seating for up to seven passengers. Surprisingly, the 2-passenger third row offers enough room for adults. The second row comes as either a 3-person bench, or it can be had with two bucket seats. Both seats can be equipped to power-fold flat, and when down, you have 80.7 cubic feet of cargo area. Throughout, the Explorer's width is put to good use too, maybe too good, as some shorter drivers may find it's a stretch to rest an arm on the door.
Nobody could call the 2015 Explorer "sleek," although its streamlined shape does a good job of hiding its overall bulk. Bulges in just the right places hint at muscularity, and the long horizontal creases along the sides convey motion. New this year is a sport-appearance package for the mid-level XLT, which adds bigger wheels, a darker grille and other touches to give the Explorer a sportier look. However, it's not as bold as the Explorer Sport, which adds a black grille, big wheels, and a don't-mess-with-me demeanor.
You can get the 2015 Ford Explorer in base, XLT, Limited and Sport models. The $31,000 or so you'll pay for a base model gets you a V6 engine, single-zone climate control with rear auxiliary climate control, and a power driver's seat. The standard 6-speaker audio includes auxiliary inputs. It also comes with Ford's MyKey, which allows drivers to program top speed and other parameters to help prevent young drivers from behaving recklessly. 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.
Base-model Ford Explorers are limited in their option selections to just the basics: a towing package, Sync and satellite radio. The mid-level XLT is a good value, expanding the options list to include leather seats, navigation, blind-spot detection with inflatable rear seatbelts, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Limited and Sport models offer a luxury-seating package, active cruise control, and heated and cooled front seats. All V6 models can be equipped with 4-wheel drive – it's standard on Sport models – and a smaller, fuel-efficient 4-cylinder can replace the V6 in all but Sport models.
The standard 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 on the
Ford Explorer won't blow you away, but it's adequate for most people's needs. It's available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD). Optional is a smaller, turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine with a 28-mpg highway rating, however, we're not sure the economy gain is worth the sluggish acceleration. Sport models come exclusively with 4-wheel drive and a turbocharged 365-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost. Regardless of engine, all 2015 Explorer models have a 6-speed automatic transmission, and V6 models get Ford's SelectShift that enables drivers to shift gears manually. Sport models get steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Regular-unleaded gasoline works for all Explorers, although both EcoBoost models prefer premium. The 4-cylinder can tow 2,000 pounds, while V6 models can haul 5,000 pounds.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
240 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
270 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28 mpg
290 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
255 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/24 mpg (FWD), 13/18 mpg (FWD E85), 17/23 (4WD), 12/17 mpg (4WD E85)
3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6
365 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
350 lb-ft of torque @ 3,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/22
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of about $31,500 gets you into a base 2015 Ford Explorer, but the XLT's wider availability of options makes it a better place to start at $33,500. The Limited model starts around $39,000, and the powerful Explorer Sport begins at about $43,500. This is all before options get added, and they can add up quickly. The 4-cylinder EcoBoost is a $995 option, for example, and 4-wheel drive adds $2,000. That's in line with competitors like the Chevy Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot, but both the Hyundai Santa Fe and 7-passenger Dodge Journey start below $30,000. Check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to get the best deal in your area, and note that the Explorer's resale value holds up quite well – better than the Durango, less than the Highlander, and right in line with the Traverse and Pilot.