The latest version of the Ford Explorer has been on sale since the 2011 model year, though it was facelifted in 2016 and received some more tweaks for 2018. This year, the three-row SUV has subtly revised fascias and some fresh paint color choices, with 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and new active safety package additions. Though it's not the newest model in its class, Ford's updates mean the Explorer remains a competitive choice in the three-row SUV set.
Powertrain and specs
The Ford Explorer's base engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. It's coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission and can be configured with either front- or all-wheel drive. With the former, it delivers fuel economy ratings of 17 miles per gallon city and 24 mpg highway, while all-wheel drive Explorers return 16/24 mpg.
The next option is a turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four engine, again mated to a six-speed automatic. Though it's down on displacement, its output figures more than measure up to the V6: 280 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. This engine is more fuel-efficient than the V6, returning 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway with front-wheel drive, and 18/25 mpg with AWD. Those numbers are close matches for the efficiency ratings of rival three-row crossover SUVs like the , and .
The final powertrain choice is reserved for the Explorer Sport and Platinum trim levels. They use a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 with a heady 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet, and the Sport model gets paddle shifters so the driver can better use that power. Offered exclusively with all-wheel drive, this engine returns the worst economy of any Explorer, 16/22 mpg.
With three rows of seats, the Explorer can be equipped in six- or seven-passenger configuration, depending on whether the second row is outfitted with a bench or captain's chairs. With all three rows of seats in use, there is 21 cubic feet of cargo room. Folding down the third row expands that to 43.9 cubic feet while with the second row folded the Explorer offers 81.7 cubic feet of space. The second row can slide fore and aft for space or recline slightly for comfort, and the third row can even be equipped with a power-fold option to make increasing cargo space easier.
The Explorer's standard infotainment system is a 4.2-inch color touchscreen with Bluetooth and a USB port. An optional 8-inch touchscreen runs Ford's Sync 3 infotainment software. It has support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as optional navigation, and can be augmented with a 12-speaker Sony sound system. For rear-seat entertainment, there's a $1,995 dual-screen headrest DVD player.
As for connectivity, up to 10 devices at a time can connect to the Explorer's new 4G Wi-Fi hotspot. Owners can also connect to their vehicle via the FordPass app to check the SUV's status, lock or unlock it, and start it remotely. On all-wheel drive models, a Terrain Management System switch lets drivers select modes for different types of driving surfaces, like mud or snow.
New this year is the Safe and Smart package, which combines adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning and braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, automatic wipers and automatic high beams. The Explorer also offers a 180-degree front-facing camera, rear parking sensors and a self-parking feature. Finally, there's an unusual safety feature for the second row of seats: Inflatable seat belts act like airbags to help cushion passengers in a crash.
Options and pricing
The 2018 Ford base Explorer trim starts at $33,135 (including a $995 destination charge) with front-wheel drive, or can be upgraded to AWD for an extra $2,150. Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels and the 4.2-inch touchscreen, but unfortunately the Safe and Smart active-safety package cannot be equipped.
Moving up to the XLT trim level costs $35,170, or $37,320 if you add all-wheel drive. Major upgrades include push-button start, rear parking sensors and satellite radio. It's also available with more options packages, including the Safe and Smart technologies, a $1,595 XLT Sport Appearance package that includes 20-inch wheels, and you can elect other options like heated seats, remote start, and the upgraded 8.0-inch Sync 3 infotainment system. Upgrading to the 2.3-liter turbo engine costs $895.
The Explorer Limited costs $43,085 or $45,235 with all-wheel drive. It comes standard with the 2.3-liter engine, Sync 3 infotainment with navigation, leather upholstery, 20-inch wheels and heated and cooled front seats.
The highlight of the $46,945 Explorer Sport is its powerful twin-turbo engine, but the trim level also bundles in visual goodies like 20-inch wheels, red accent stitching, tinted head- and taillight housings and quad exhaust tips. Equipment highlights include a hands-free power liftgate and Sync 3 infotainment. Though it looks cool and has copious power, its cost and fuel-economy penalty mean the Sport may not be the right Explorer for every buyer.
At $54,935, the Explorer Platinum is priced like a luxury SUV -- but fortunately it has the equipment to match. Twenty-inch wheels, twin moonroofs, abundant chrome trim, "Nirvana" leather upholstery, the Wi-Fi hotspot and the Safe and Smart package are all standard, along with pretty much every other option offered on the Explorer.
The 2018 Ford Explorer is available nationwide now. An all-new model is not expected until 2020, so this recently updated version will be on sale for the next few years.