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2012 Ford Explorer Road Test Review - Road & Travel Magazine's 2012 SUV Buyer's Guide

2012 Ford Explorer Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2012 SUV Buyer's Guide - Road & Travel's Top 10 Picks

Acura RDX

Honda Pilot

Buick Enclave

Hyundai Veracruz

Ford Explorer

Subaru Tribeca

We remember a number of months ago a die hard Ford fan lamenting the lack of a proper Ford Explorer at the time his lease ran out. It's what he wanted, but the redesigned version was still on the horizon when time came for a replacement vehicle. That person is still kicking himself for choosing something else. If he'd waited for the 2012 Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle, he could have gotten exactly what he'd wanted. Now he's counting time until that subsequent lease expires.

We knew there were other folks out there who were counting the days until the next generation Explorer made its debut as a 2011 model. We remember driving it years ago when it still was a newbie SUV setting the trend for other sport utilities to follow, and wondering where it had been hiding and why no one had invented it before. We haven't changed our opinion.

A lot of people must have been anticipating the revised Explorer. Ford tells us it has sold more than 100,000 of them so far this year, an almost unheard of number for a sport utility vehicle, especially a large one. Maybe that's because -- riding on the total 2011 revision -- the current 2012 model adds a nice bonus for Explorer fans especially as fuel prices creep up into never-tested territory. It's Ford's all-new 2.0-liter, EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, designed to max out fuel savings while retaining sufficient power to drive a large, seven-seat vehicle.

In addition to the new engine, available only with front-wheel drive, the Explorer retains the flexible fuel, 3.5-liter,  V-6 that generates 290-horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque and is required for models with all-wheel drive. Fuel economy for the I-4 with six-speed automatic is rated at 20-MPG in city driving, or 28-MPG highway, best in class for a three-row, seven-passenger SUV. The V-6 with six-speed Select Shift transmission earns 17/25 with front drive or 17/23 with Ford's “intelligent” all-wheel drive system. Both engines use regular fuel according to Ford, but the 240-horsepower rating for the I-4 is based on using premium fuel. Both engines qualify for low emissions ratings.

On the road, or off road, the Explorer holds its ground in challenging driving conditions. Four-wheel versions (3.5-liter V-6), have a system Ford calls Terrain Management that lets the driver dial up needed gearing and suspension changes to accommodate specific conditions such as snow, rain, mud or sand. When equipped with the proper towing package, it can tow as much as 5,000 pounds.

The 2012 Explorer comes in base, XLT and top-line Limited versions. Exterior changes in last year's redesign include a buffed up front end, anchored by Ford's three-bar grille trim and winged headlamps. To tease contemporary style tastes, Ford also has added some new exterior colors for 2012, including Ginger Ale Metallic, Dark Blue Pearl Metallic, Cinnamon Metallic and Black that set off the wraparound rear window glass design and dominant rear spoiler and roof rails. The base model comes with 17-inch wheels, while those on XLT are 18-inch, and 20-inch on the Limited. Both XLT and Limited can opt for 20-inch polished aluminum wheels instead of painted ones.

Inside is a wealth of high tech electronics including Ford's SYNC  electronics communication/entertainment system and MyFordTouch  driver's connection system, among amenities that can match any premium SUV's features. The Limited model has a standard 110-volt outlet for charging such devices as cell phones or laptops as well as push button start.  The Explorer is designed for six. For those needing to haul seven, third row seating can be accessed with a power fold seating system. Additional driver's seat comfort comes from available 10-way power seating with power recline and lumbar support.
Including navigation, available amenities also include Ford's Park Assist that sets up and navigates a parallel parking space in 24-seconds. Safety systems abound. Standard traction system and braking systems includes curve control to prevent a vehicle from losing grip in a curve.  Among other standard systems is Ford's Safety Canopy side curtain airbag system. Optional safety systems include adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support. Available rear seat shoulder harness airbags cover five times more area when inflated than standard shoulder belts. Vehicles with that option also get BLIS (blind spot detection system) with cross traffic alert.

Despite the 2012 Explorer's premium character, pricing for the base, front drive model, with 3.5-liter V-6 engine, is $28,280.
We, at Road & Travel, think the combination of good pricing, appearance, driving and handling ability and amenities make an unbeatable combo. And we think those are reasons the redesigned Ford Explorer has taken its share of honors back home to the garage.

For more info on Ford brands, click here.