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2018 Ford Explorer Overview
Well into its fifth generation, which debuted in 2011, the Ford Explorer midsize SUV receives some minor updating for 2018, in an effort to keep it going strong until the next generation arrives. Ford spruces up the Explorer's exterior for 2018 with a new grille and foglight design, as well as five new wheel options and four new exterior colors. Trims equipped with the top-end twin-turbo V6 powerplant also get new quad tailpipes. Inside, buyers can opt for a newly available Sync Connect system with a 4G modem and Wi-Fi hotspot capability, which can support 10 devices at a distance of up to 50 feet. Rounding out the 2018 updates, Ford offers a new Safe and Smart Package for the Explorer, which includes such driver-assistance features as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, and rain-sensing wipers.
For most of its nearly 30 years in production, the Explorer reigned as one of the top-selling SUVs in the world, but in recent years it has lost some ground to increasingly popular compact competitors like the Toyota RAV4, the Nissan Rogue, and the Honda CR-V. According to many reviewers and critics, those SUVs offer better handling, interior comfort, and fuel economy than the Explorer, while others, like the midsize Honda Pilot and the recently redesigned Chevrolet Traverse, deliver more cargo capacity, as well as better overall value. Still, the Explorer continues to appeal to a wide range of buyers, due in part to its established reputation as a competent performer, as well as its rugged good looks and choice of three powerplants.
Other than the few exterior tweaks, the look of the Explorer remains essentially unchanged for 2018. With its squared-off profile, flat forward-sloping front end, straight sidelines, long tail, and minimal ornamentation, the Explorer projects a clean, uncluttered appearance. Although the grille retains its trapezoid shape, it gets a redesigned frame and new black mesh insert, although some trims continue to receive exclusive grilles. New exterior colors for 2018 include Cinnamon Glaze, Blue Metallic, Burgundy Velvet, and Platinum Dune, which join existing colors like Ruby Red, Oxford White, and Shadow Black.
Ford continues to offer the Explorer at Base, XLT, Limited, and Premium trim levels, as well as in a new Sport trim, which debuted in 2017. It fits just below the top-line Platinum. Outside, all Explorers come well-equipped with such features as automatic LED headlights, LED taillights, power heated side mirrors, and roof rails. The XLT adds foglights, while the Limited gets power-folding side mirrors and a power-operated rear liftgate. The Sport trim displays a unique exterior design with such features as black door handles, black-gloss accents, integrated dual exhaust pipes, and blackout treatment around the headlights and taillights, while the top-of-the-line Platinum gets a unique grille and satin chrome exterior accents. The Limited, Sport, and Platinum all ride on 20-inch wheels, while the other trims come standard with 18-inch wheels, although buyers can upgrade to larger wheels on the lower-end trims. New optional wheels are available for all 2018 Explorers.
A naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engine, which provides base power, comes standard on the Base and XLT trims, and it's available as an option on the Limited. It continues to deliver 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque and manages fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg city/24 highway/20 combined. Stepping up a notch, the Limited receives a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine as its standard powerplant. Horsepower drops slightly to 280, while torque increases to 310 lb-ft. Fuel-economy numbers improve as well, to 19/27/22. Buyers can add the 2.3-liter EcoBoost as an option on the Base and XLT trims.
The Sport and Platinum remain the most powerful trims in the Explorer fleet, thanks to their twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, which pushes hp to 365 and torque to 350 lb-ft, although fuel economy numbers drop to 16/22/18. All engines mate to a 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. No manual is available on the Explorer.
Trims equipped with the 3.6-liter V6 ride on a front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform, although buyers can add the automaker's Intelligent Four-Wheel-Drive (4WD) system as an option. Trims with the 2.3-liter turbo 4-cylinder are available only in the FWD configuration, while those with the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 get 4WD as a standard feature. A Terrain Management System, which comes standard on all 4WD trims, makes it easy for drivers to shift into one of four drive settings on the fly, depending on the terrain. Hill Descent Control also comes standard with the 4WD system. However, whether it rides on a FWD or 4WD platform, the Explorer gets dinged for its handling and maneuverability by some critics, who suggest alternatives like Ford's own Edge for buyers who require more responsive handling.
The Explorer's three engine options give it a leg up on some competitors, like the Chevy Traverse, which comes with a 281-hp 3.6-liter V6 as its sole powerplant. Explorers equipped with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost deliver the best fuel economy but can seem underpowered at times, while the two V6 engines deliver better performance, but fuel economy suffers. The 4WD system cuts into fuel-economy numbers even more. Buyers who value more efficient performance might want to look at other SUVs, like the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which manages up to 30 mpg. The Explorer's powerplant also affects its towing capacity, since trims equipped with the V6 engines can tow up to 5,000 pounds, while those with the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder top out at 2,000 pounds.
The Explorer continues to seat seven passengers in three rows, although buyers can opt for second-row bucket seats, reducing seating capacity to six. Both the second- and third-row seats split and fold flat to maximize cargo capacity, which tops out at 81.7 cubic feet, about average for the class. With all three rows of seats up, cargo space behind the third row measures 21 cubic feet. By comparison, the Chevy Traverse offers 116.3 and 24.4 cubic feet, respectively, while the Honda Pilot maxes out at 83.9 cubic feet. The Limited, Sport, and Platinum trims get a PowerFold third-row bench seat, while the folding seats in lower-end trims require manual operation. Options for the Sport and Platinum trims include second-row bucket seats with Power-Assist Fold.
All Explorers come well-equipped with such standard interior features as a reversing camera, cruise control, a media hub with USB charging, rear climate controls, and dome/map lights for all three rows. The Base also includes a 6-speaker audio system and Ford's base Sync system with a 4.2-inch screen. The XLT adds unique cloth seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, and a reverse sensing system, while the Limited gets leather upholstery in the first two rows, dual-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, push-button start, and an upgraded Sync system with an 8-inch screen, voice-activated navigation, and a 12-speaker premium audio system. The Sport receives unique leather upholstery with red contrast stitching and heated front seats, while the Platinum pulls out all the stops with such features as quilted leather upholstery, a 500-watt audio system, a twin-panel moonroof, and a number of upgraded safety and driver-assistance features like blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, and enhanced parking assist with pull-out perpendicular-park assist.
Overall, the Explorer has held up well as it nears the end of its current generation. The 2018 updates should help it remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market segment, although some newer, more efficient SUVs are cutting into its sales. Look for the Explorer to get lighter, more nimble, and more fuel efficient when its next generation arrives.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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