2007 Ford Explorer V6
– Large useful interior
– Good off-road capability
– Great on-road ride and comfort
– Hard cabin plastics all over
– Below-average V6 engine
– Stupid non-retractable antenna
The Ford Explorer is a massive hit in the United States, being the top-selling “sport-utility-vehicle” in that country for years now. With various trim levels and engine options there, it managed to hold its own in an American market constantly being bombarded by Japanese versions of the family SUV concept. But while surviving the barrage in its home market, the Explorer has never made any real inroads into the Middle East market. We got the chance to drive the latest one at a day-long Ford press event, both on and off the road, and it left us wondering why it isn’t doing any better.
There is nothing wrong with the way the midsize Explorer looks. The styling is especially pleasant after the facelift in 2006, though it can be construed as overly conservative. It is conservative compared to, well, an orange Nissan Murano, but it looks sharp enough. While our tester had a big chrome grille, it is apparently available in monochromatic colours too, depending on trim.
The conservative shape provides for a sizeable interior, with infinite headroom all over. There is excellent front legroom, while rear legroom is average for the class, about the same as in the Honda MR-V, and better than in the Nissan Pathfinder. There is also the traditionally cramped third row seating, good for short distances as usual, bringing the seating count up to seven, or even eight if you’re feeling adventurous. All the seats are rather flat due to a one-size-fits-all approach, but comfortable enough. In our tester at least, the seats were of the optional fake-looking leather variety, and only the driver’s seat was fully power-adjustable, while the passenger seat only had a power-adjustable bottom. Numerous cup-holders and bottle holders are spread out evenly front and back, and there are decent storage spaces in the glove box, the door pockets and the centre armrest. Luggage space is expectedly limited to groceries with the third row up, but expands to a studio apartment with the last row folded down, or more with the second row down too.
Like the exterior, the interior looks pleasant enough, with an angular dashboard design and interesting door treatment. But the materials aren’t anything to brag about. While the inner door panels do have some padded inserts, they are still largely hard plastics, including the upper sills, as is the dashboard. But as unfortunate as this is, hard surfaces seem to be the norm in this category nowadays, even with Honda and Nissan. All-round visibility from the high driving position is good, even with all the headrests behind, and everything is within reach, including the CD/MP3 stereo which, in our tester, had a convenient in-dash CD changer and good upgraded speakers.
Our tester also had a sunroof, a little trip computer screen within the gauges, power windows, electric mirrors, keyless entry with a keypad on the door, and cruise control with buttons on the steering wheel alongside ones for the stereo. But then cost-cutting took over, and the result is the steering wheel is manually adjusted, the flexible radio antenna on the front fender is not retractable, and the a/c uses simple knobs for control. Apparently electronic dual-zone climate control is optional, though ours didn’t have it, because we distinctly remember fighting for control. The a/c was left untested due to cool weather, though it did cool down rather fast when we turned it on briefly, and it comes with vents front and back. Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, and a tyre-pressure monitor, while curtain airbags are optional. Available options include a rear DVD player, power-adjustable pedals, power-folding third-row seats, remote start, parking sensors and what not.
The 4.0-litre V6 is a joke compared to what some others offer. With 210 hp on tap, it falls behind everything else in its category. Its torque figure of 344 Nm does make up for some of this deficit though, moving the big 4WD well enough to keep up with things like 1.6-litre economy cars on the road. It takes about 11 seconds to hit 100 kph from standstill, which is just adequate for cruising the city. The engine doesn’t sound too refined under full throttle, but it is muffled and damped enough to be ignored. The traditional five-speed automatic is wonderfully smooth, with near-invisible shifts, but it lacks any tiptronic functions so common nowadays. High-speed highway driving is stable and event-free. On paper, the Explorer is supposed to have average fuel economy by class standards, similar to the Pathfinder and the Prado. But we got significantly worse numbers, netting 24.2 l/100 km, explained by the fact that our tester spent the entire morning climbing dunes in low gear, with only a short stint on the highway. Off-roading takes its toll on fuel consumption with any vehicle.
But the Explorer does shine in off-road conditions. The numerous off-road courses set up by Ford put this 4WD to the ultimate test, revealing its rather strong platform that doesn’t twist with one wheel off the ground, and the useful low-rpm torque of the engine which allows the wagon to climb firm 40-degree inclines without much stress. The Explorer comes standard with button-operated choices for three modes, namely automatic all-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive mode with locked centre diff, and finally four-wheel-drive with low-range gearing. What impressed us more is the standard AdvanceTrac smart traction control system, which cuts power to free-spinning wheels as needed. Hardly any other comparable 4WDs have such a system. The juicy 245/65 tyres wrapping the 17-inch wheels combined with decent ground clearance even with the side steps meant that it held its own in the desert. The traction control could be turned off to power up dunes, or turned on again when smoothly flattening gravel trails.
Leaving the sands for harder tarmac surfaces, the Explorer changes character to a comfortable cruiser, thanks to its independent four-wheel suspension and tons more sound-deadening material than before. For it is one of the most quiet vehicles we’ve ever tested. It is dead-silent at standstill in the middle of traffic, and only the drone of the engine under throttle can be heard up to 100 kph, which is when physics takes over and wind hush starts creeping in. The ride is as smooth as a luxury car on smooth surfaces, though there is some wobble on uneven pavement. It seems to crash harder over speed bimps than most other 4WDs, possibly due to a stiffer suspension setup than traditional trucks.
The suspension setup comes into play when going around corners. The Explorer seems to have less body roll than the Pathfinder, the Prado or even the car-like Honda MR-V. We did not get the opportunity to push it to the max, but quick cornering on public roads revealed only moderate body roll. We also felt psychologically safer with Ford’s Roll Stability Control ready to kick in during extreme situations. Usually other mid-size 4WDs start squealing even in slow turns inside parking lots, but tyre squeal wasn’t heard at all during our run with the Explorer. The power steering is very soft, which kills any feedback from the road, but is appreciated in tight city conditions. And the four-wheel disc brakes, working in conjunction with ABS and brake assist, did well enough in normal conditions, with good enough pedal feel.
The well-assembled Ford Explorer turned out to be as capable as the established players both on and off the road, and even surpassed many of them in certain respects. Its list of electronic safety and off-road features at such a competitive price makes its deficiencies, such as the below-average engine and the hard plastic cabin, a moot point. While it could’ve been better, what it does have is easily enough for it to enter our list of recommended cars. The new Explorer is quite possibly the most underrated 4WD on the Middle East market.
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