With a flood of new entries to the midsize crossover SUV segment like the Volkswagen Atlas, it’s often easy to overlook some of the established players like the 2017 Ford Explorer. Even though it hasn’t had a significant redesign like the Honda Pilot, the Explorer has been updated and freshened over the years to keep it on pace with similar-sized SUVs. Micah Muzio takes a closer look in this Video Review and Road Test.

2017 Ford Explorer Review Transcript

Launched in the early 1990s the Ford Explorer deserves credit for opening the floodgates for America's SUV obsession. Decades later the 3-row midsize Explorer SUV remains a sales leader raising the question: “Is the popular choice the right choice for you?” The answer is yes if you want other drivers to wonder if you're a cop.

Police impersonation aside the Explorer has a rugged and refined look that states unambiguously “No I do not drive a minivan.” Inside you can choose a second-row bench or second-row captain’s chairs. Unless you need a demilitarized zone between spiteful siblings, the 7-passenger layout is the logical choice for hauling people.  We should note that the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander each top out at eight seats.

Second row accommodations are accommodating, but let's see what happens when I climb into the third row as a completely average American male. This should be a pretty good test assuming you're a completely average American male. Head does not touch the headliner, seat back is a little bit vertical and my knees are well-acquainted with the seat back. But yeah, I could do this for a little bit. Climbing aboard the Explorer's third row is a cinch due to wide aperture rear doors and optional power folding second row seats. Up front a parking brake and wheel well hump somewhat intrude on foot space but otherwise the foremost quarters win big in the comfort department making amends for its capacitive controlled past.

The latest Explorer incorporates sweet unambiguous buttons for the audio and climate controls while a 4.2-inch screen comes standard. We greatly prefer the optional 8-inch touch screen featuring Sync 3 Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a pair of USB outlets. The system is an intuitive, attractive and useful centerpiece for the interior. Look at those buttons. Fly, depart this region of the cabin. There are a few areas of concern. The hard shiny plastic feels cheap especially when juxtaposed with fancy materials that adorn higher trims like this Platinum model. Some of the steering wheel controls are ergonomically indistinct requiring you to read them until you instinctively know what does what. And it sure seems like the dash trim and door trim should line up or at least misalign the same on the left and right sides.

On a more positive note the Explorer boasts more space behind its third row than most midsize SUVs. It's 21-cubic-foot capacity doubles with the third row dropped, an easy task made even easier with the optional power operated seats. Lower the second row and that number jumps to a commendable 81.7 cubic feet.  Cargo is accessed through a wide rear hatch that if you're willing to pay for it opens with the wave of your foot. Roll down the road at a decent clip and the Explorer shines with a plush ride and well-controlled road noise. Encounter a curve, though and you'll notice some imprecision from the steering wheel. Interestingly, cornering grip is better than you'd expect. I think the chassis people need to talk to the seat people.

One notable Explorer shortcoming is visibility.  The B-pillar is wide, blocking your view to the side. The C- and D-pillars are also wide blocking your view rearward and over your right shoulder. And the A-pillar is wide partially blocking your view to the front at the same time a long dash and a sloping hood make it hard to tell exactly how far you should pull into that space. To Ford's credit, they counter those visibility issues with technology in the form of an optional blind spot monitoring system and a washer equipped forward-facing 180 degree camera that is a godsend when creeping from an alley  into traffic.

For propulsion Ford serves up a trio of engines each paired with a competent 6-speed automatic transmission starting with a naturally aspirated V6.  Given its modest $500 premium, torquey output and 27 mpg highway rating, the optional 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder is a smart upgrade if blowing the doors off of other midsize SUVs sounds like fun. The Explorer can on higher trims be equipped with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6.  With the EcoBoost V6 you can either tow up to 5,000 pounds or blast from 0 to 60 miles per hour in around 6 seconds. I choose the latter. For those who'd rather tow, the Explorer offers a tow haul mode with trailer sway control. Watch a few crash videos on YouTube to appreciate why that's helpful.

The EcoBoost V6 sends its abundant power to all four tires but 4-wheel drive can also be added to the base V6 and EcoBoost 4-cylinder for about $2,100.  Do so and you'll enjoy hill descent control and a 4-mode terrain management system while removing the possibility of getting shamefully stuck in a front-wheel drive SUV. In roughly $32,000 base form, the Explorer's feature list consists of automatic LED headlights, a 6-way power driver seat with manual recline, rear climate controls, a backup camera, a six-speaker audio system with  Bluetooth, a host of airbags including a front passenger knee airbag and Ford's MyKey, which helps parents prevent reckless  behavior from inexperienced drivers.

Venturing through higher trims and the option sheet opens features like dual zone automatic climate control, a 2 panel  moonroof, power adjustable pedals, passive entry with push-button start, an automatic parallel and perpendicular parking system, heated and ventilated front massaging seats delivering truly heroic levels of lumbar adjustment, and adaptive cruise control that automatically shuts off at slow speeds. Be sure to remember that supplementing the standard safety roster are options like second row outboard inflatable seatbelts, lane departure warning with steering assist and forward collision warning select. The top tier platinum trim with its Sony premium audio system and Nirvana leather seats has an MSRP that lands around $52,000.

Filling out the mid-size 3-row competitive set are the VW Atlas, Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot among others. In such an illustrious crowd the Explorer's varying quality and 7-passenger max capacity are potential deterrents. Shortcomings aside, the Ford Explorer is roomy, offers a range of compelling features and it'll give you a handy conversation starter with all those other Ford Explorer owners. At the very least the sight of yet another Explorer on the road might help keep slow drivers out of the left lane.  Thank you for your  service   

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