Ford, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2012 Ford Explorer XLT AWD – Road Test

It’s been quite a while since I last drove a Ford Explorer, and since it’s recently been redesigned from the ground up in 2011, I thought I was long overdue to climb behind the wheel again.

I’ve always liked the Explorer, but the new duds make it look quite unique – in fact, I’m sure you could replace the Ford badge with a Range Rover badge and people wouldn’t blink an eye. Especially from the rear … it looks like the RR Evoque.

First Impressions
Climbing behind the wheel, the first thing you notice is the instrument cluster and centre console – it’s identical to the Ford Edge (and the instrument cluster is actually exactly the same is in the Evoque!). It looks quite intimidating, but only at first – because there isn’t much there until you start the Explorer engine and everything comes to life.

In addition to the large touch-screen for Audio/HVAC/SatNav controls, there are additional touch buttons for the quick adjustment of the heating and audio systems. After spending time operating everything (not while driving of course) it’s actually a very good system and quite easy to use. I had my usual issues with the Ford Sync – I couldn’t get it to work – but it didn’t detract from the rest of the system.


Just like the Edge, and probably more and more Fords will be seeing this set up, the steering wheel has two keypads – very similar to an mp3 player or mobile phone. Each pad controls the corresponding mini-screen that flanks the speedometer.  It’s quite ingenious and easy to use – I really like the thought that went into this. You scroll down to the item you wish to change and then press the OK button. Another screen appears and that’s where you make your changes. To get back out you just hit the back (left) button. It’s so easy to use and you don’t get distracted while driving – this is definitely the way of the future for those of us that can’t use voice commands in SYNC. It is way easier to use than BMW, Audi and M-B’s set up with a dial.

The same information can also be accessed and changed on the large 8″ touch-screen on the centre stack which I found helpful when my wife was in the passenger seat – I just barked orders and she made it happen :>).

The new Explorer is a very large vehicle – though it doesn’t look like it until you get behind the wheel. Fortunately, the Explorer’s steering feel is very impressive, courtesy of a variable-assist electric power set-up. Steering is light at low speeds for easy parking, and gets noticeably heavier at higher speeds. With strong, easy-to-control brakes and a well-calibrated throttle you get a large crossover that is very easy to drive on the highway or around town. The seats are well-contoured and quite comfortable – a must when you have a vehicle like this.

Rear Seats
Rear passengers praised the comfort – even the third-row seats were more comfortable than expected and easier to get in and out of compared to all other SUV/CUV’s and even mini-vans. That shouldn’t be a surprise however because the new Explorer is virtually a Ford Flex with a much sexier body. The Flex has always been the vehicle I’d recommend for anyone that needs a vehicle with third row seating. (The Explorer is built on the same platform, coming in 25 kg heavier than an AWD Flex, but gets an extra 28 hp out of the same 3.5-litre engine).

One thing of note however… the rear doors open to a 90 degree angle, so they sprawl over into adjacent parking spots when you open the doors. If you have kids or careless passengers (or someone is climbing into/out of the third row seats you’d better have someone to stop the doors hitting other vehicles. I personally won’t be parking beside any of the new Explorers for this reason.

For anyone that has had an Explorer in the past, the new version is considerably different from the old – it’s a uni-body instead of body-on-frame, meaning it isn’t really a truck anymore (let’s be honest 99.9% of trucks never leave the road so you won’t miss anything except the bumpy ride). For those that want to go off-roading, Ford’s solution is a Terrain Management System that’s standard in all four-wheel-drive models. Through a console-mounted knob, the driver gets to set the drivetrain to one of four settings – normal, snow, mud or sand to optimize performance on a variety of different surfaces. Aside from normal, the most useful setting for just about every driver in the snow-belt will be the snow mode, which orders quicker up-shifts and softer shifts to help maintain traction in wintery conditions.

Ford is serious about safety and the Explorer is no exception. Some of the safety features include: Back up camera; Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Warning with Brake Support; Cross traffic Alert (VERY useful in parking lots); Advance Trac with RCS (Roll Stability Control); SecuriCode keyless entry keypad (still unique to Ford – why hasn’t anyone else come up with something similar?!); BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) – one of the better ones out there I have to say; Reverse camera; My Key – another great safety feature. There’s also a hill descent control setting that keeps a consistent speed down steep off-road grades – at VERY low speeds.

The Conclusion
The new Explorer is a wonderful vehicle that I quickly fell in love with. Ford emphasized in the press release the importance of the outstanding fuel economy with the new 3.5 Litre engine. I wasn’t overly aggressive with my right foot simply because it’s not that type of vehicle and I was alone in the vehicle 99% of the time, but I thought my fuel economy numbers were deplorable. If I remember correctly, the Ford Raptor had similar fuel numbers and that was a beast of a truck that justified its thirst for fuel. Loading the Explorer up with luggage and rugrats would put you in the poor house pretty quickly! I’d seriously consider stepping up to the Sport model and getting the 6-cylinder EcoBoost engine – you’d save enough to pay the difference in monthly payments in my opinion.

Superb LCD Touch screen for HVAC/Audio/SatNav
Great stereo system
Easy to dive for such a large vehicle

Deplorable fuel economy
Doors not very neighbour-friendly

Immediate Competition:
Acura MDX, Dodge Durango, Ford Flex, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Venza / 4Runner / Highlander

By The Numbers…
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Powertrain:                  3.5 L DOHC 24-valve V-6 Engine with Ti-VCT ; 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission; AWD
Horsepower:                  2890 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque lb-ft:                  255 @ 4,000 rpm
Cargo Capacity:           Behind Front Seats /2nd /3rd Row: 2,285 L (80.7 cu.ft) / 1,240 L (43.8 cu.ft) / 595 L (21.0 cu.ft)
Towing capacity:        1,588 kg (3,500 lbs)

Fuel Consumption:  (Regular Unleaded – 87 Octane)
City:  12.5 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 8.8 L/100 kms
I averaged 16.5 – 17.3 L/100 kms during mostly highway driving.

Pricing for the 2012 Ford Explorer XLT AWD ($ Cdn)
Base Price: $39,099

As Tested:  $46,029 [Dual-panel Moonroof-  $1,750; Equipment Group 202A- $2,000; Polished Aluminum wheels- $1,250; Voice-activated Navigation- $700; Trailer Tow Pkg- $500; BLIS- $500; Power liftgate- $500; Rear-view camera- $500]
Destination: $1,550

All Ford’s are covered by a 3-year or 60,000 km basic vehicle warranty, and a 5-year/100,000 km Powertrain warranty.
Roadside assistance program is for 5 years/100,000 kms.

Copyright © 2012 by Iain Shankland
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland

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