2012 Ford Explorer | road test

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 by

Quick Review

GoodGood Space, comfort, features, safety, on road dynamics
BadBadNot a 'true' SUV, touch screen could be more responsive
SpecsSpecs290bhp 3.5-litre V6 engine. Six-speed SelectShift automatic gearbox
PricePriceAED 189,000 (as tested)
RatingEditors Rating Three Star
All-new Ford Explorer front 3/4th driving

All-new Explorer

All of us remember the financial meltdown of 2008, don’t we? The recession had severe effects on the global auto-industry and this financial catastrophe has taught valuable lessons to all carmakers. As a result, we have witnessed whole platforms have been shelved, planning and production processes being streamlined, economy becoming the buzzword and platform sharing becoming a norm.

Compared to its American counterparts, Ford braved the financial crisis pretty well. Ford never asked for cash assistance from the US government, the company relied on its backup funds and quickly turned its attention to improving its profitability by revamping its production processes and vehicle lineups. Another reason for Ford’s success are the F series trucks which pretty much held the company afloat during bad weather. However, people’s love affair with huge pickups and XXL sized SUVs began to fade post recession. Hence, Ford has intensely revised its lineup to be more fuel-efficient and depend less on the truck sales.

The all-new 2012 is a clear example of that strategy. What we see here is a SUV that has abandoned its erstwhile body on frame utility-truck platform and put on a more car like guise with the new unibody (monocoque) structure. It also shares underpinnings with the Flex and the Taurus which are strictly road going cars.

Design and interior

You cannot help but notice the dramatic design changes of the new 2012 Ford Explorer when compared to the outgoing version. The new version is 94mm longer, 132mm wider and 38mm taller than its processor.  The wheelbase however has been shorted by 28mm and curb weight has increased by 38 kilograms. But most importantly, ground clearance has new been reduced from 210mm to 193mm, which hint at the cars ‘’ nature.

The exterior, as you can see in the photographs, has been revamped significantly. Jim Holland, the same person who was the design chief for Range Rover, designed the new Explorer and his influence is evident from the new Explorer’s look. Not a single design element seems to have been carried over from the past. The Explorer now looks more handsome, butch and in a way, ‘clean’. The top of the line doesn’t get a huge helping of chrome and the whole front end looks absolutely gorgeous when you see the car in flesh. It now has that whole up-market feel to it.

On the inside it offers a well designed and a well-put together dashboard, good quality plastic and ample space for seven passengers. The first two rows offer plenty of space even for the taller-than-average adults but as is the case with all third row seats, they aren’t meant for adults on long rides. The first row seats are six-way adjustable and leather seats come standard on the top of the line Limited variant.

Ford has also dabbed a host of electronic features in the Explorer like MyFord, Sync, adaptive cruise control and an interactive park-assit system. However, these new techs take time getting used to. The coolest thing however is the option to change the colour of the ambient lighting inside the car at the touch of a button.

Ford Explorer dashboard

The MyTouch system lets you operate the audio, phone and vehicle settings by touching the 8-inch LCD screen on the centre console. The whole system came across as a bit sluggish and the touch input responses are slow and the feel is not as intuitive as we were expecting. But like any new technology, it demands a learning curve. For iPhone and iPad users, this system will feel decadent in no time though.

Other standard features include steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth streaming enabled audio system with AUX and USB input support, hill start assist, four modes traction control and trailer sway control. The top of the line gets a push button starter and an intelligent access system that enables you to unlock the car with one touch on the driver-door keypad.

However, in spite of its tech-laden features list, satellite navigation is absent on all 2012 Explorer models for sale in the Middle East.

Ford Explorer ambient lighting

Ford Explorer ambient lighting

Engine and transmission

The 2012 Ford Explorer gets a 3.5L Ti-VCT V6 engine that produces 290bhp at 6500rpm and 345Nm of torque at 4100rpm. The engine has been downsized from the old 4-litre but produces 80 more horses than before. It is coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox, which primarily sends power to the front wheels. The base version comes with a 6-speed while the XLT and the Limited variants get a 6-speed SelectShift automatic. An optional four-wheel drive is also available for all variants.

Ford Explorer drive modes

Ford Explorer drive modes

Ride, performance and handling

Even though there isn’t a significant increase in the power to weight ratio, the new Explorer rushes off the line impressively. Power delivery is smooth and the gearbox even has a sports mode that enables you to hold on to the gears longer and the Explorer will even hold on to a particular cog if required. Straight line performance recorded on our testing equipment indicate a 0-100kmph time of 9.4 seconds which is decent for a car that weighs over two tons.

The all-new Ford Explorer feels well planted on highways and tackles corners with a sedan-like intent. The traction control does its magic during hard cornering and even decelerates if required. The ride feels well cushioned and the suspension setup does a good job of absorbing surface undulations.

Off the road, the Explorer doesn’t win many brownie points because of its on-road focused driving dynamics. Lets face it, if you plan to buy a vehicle like the Explorer, what you are interested in is its comfort and features and not its off-roading capabilities. The Explorer is certainly a soft-roader and we made an attempt to tackle some mild dunes, which it did fairly well but honestly, we wont try it again. The engine feels very capable of powering the Explorer on sand dunes but the drivetrain lets it down.

The Explorer has a selectable drive mode system that lets you select between normal, mud and ruts, sand and snow modes but it lacks serious off-roading gear and the lack of a locking-differential coupled with the heavy curb weight means that you better stick to the road. The Explorer has anti-lock sensors that enable the car to simulate differential locks but it’s not as good as the real thing. It will get you across some rough patches but don’t plan the overnight desert safari in this.

Ford Explorer inflatable seatbelts

Ford Explorer inflatable seatbelts

Safety

The 2012 Ford Explorer comes with two very innovative safety features, the MyKey which allows parents to specify limits for vehicle speed and stereo volume and second row inflatable seatbelts that are an industry first. We were also impressed by a multitude of other standard safety features offered such as stability and traction control, trailer sway control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and post-crash alarm system. The adaptive cruise control is really helpful on the highway with its early warning system and the blind spot assist system.

Verdict

Over the years, quite a few SUVs have migrated from their rugged, utilitarian existence to more comfortable, well performing ‘soft-roaders’. The new Explorer is the latest vehicle to solidify its position in those ranks. Every car manufacturer is aiming at having a solid contender in the crossover/soft-roader segment and with the new Explorer, Ford has sort-of taken the lead.

The Explorer does what many of us want a modern SUV to do. It offers a cavernous cabin, its comfortable; it has lots of electronic features, it is adequately powerful and can cross a bit of rough patch when required.

The 2012 Ford Explorer will be available in three different trim in the UAE, base, XLT and Limited. Pricing starts at AED 135,000 for the Base variant and goes up to 189,000 for the top of the line Limited variant.

Ford Explorer

 

Specifications

Engine: 3.5L Ti-VCT V6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic (Base) / 6-speed SelectShift Automatic
Power: 290bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque: 345Nm @ 4100rpm
Layout: Front engine; front wheel drive (optional four-wheel drive)
Weight: 2063Kg
Seating capacity: 7
Maximum Towing Capacity: 2.5 tons
Wheels: 18″ (Base, XLT)/20″ (Limited)

Performance

0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds

Pricing

Base AED 135,000
XLT AED 145,000
Limited AED 180,000
Limited AED 189,000 (As tested) 

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