The Truth About Cars » ford explorer The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » ford explorer America’s Best Selling Police Car Is Now A Crossover Mon, 24 Mar 2014 23:02:09 +0000 450x300xFord-Taurus-Explorer-Police-Interceptor-450x300.jpg.pagespeed.ic.EiSRv6Y6ye

When Ford killed off the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, the police car market was left wide open. But the Blue Oval appears to have managed to brought a suitable replacement to market, though it’s not the traditional three-box police sedan.

Many departments found the Dodge Charger too cramped and the Chevrolet Caprice a tough sell to those in charge of purchasing (due to not being built in America). Ford’s Taurus Interceptor was tested by TTAC, and it too, was found to be too small for most police officers wearing a utility belt and holster.

According to USA Today, the Explorer-based Utility Interceptor appears to be the most popular Ford police car, and the best-selling police vehicle in America. Last year, Ford sold roughly 14,000 UIs while moving just under 11,000 of the Taurus based Interceptors, for an overall police vehicle market share of about 50 percent.

The UI’s larger interior and ability to hold more gear appears to be a big draw for many departments, and is the natural extension of the trend towards the adoption of the Chevrolet Tahoe (which will finally get an all-wheel drive Pursuit Rated version to compete with the AWD UI). Officers apparently like being higher up and enjoy the space that the two-box bodystyle affords. The balance hasn’t completly tipped in favor of the UI, and many departments are still happy with sedans. But the shift towards SUVs and CUVs in place of large sedans could be a harbinger for the broader auto market.

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Hammer Time: $100 Worth Of Charity… And Fun? Fri, 31 Jan 2014 14:00:48 +0000 exp1

By the time you read this, I will have bought the last $100 car sold at a public auction… that actually runs!

This 1994 Ford Explorer XL has just under 94,000 miles and has been sitting at a local water department for a couple of years now. The exterior is nothing special, but the interior is surprisingly intact and well kept.

Which begs the question, what the hell should I do with this thing?


There are a couple of ideas I have that may be worth the effort, or maybe not.

The first is to donate the Explorer to a local food bank called Helping Hands.  A local non-profit here in rural Georgia that feeds a lot more people in my county than you would imagine. It would be a nice noble gesture, and what helps out even more,  is that I also have a second Explorer.


A 1993 model, that happens to run perfectly fine as well. Although it has a few (cough! cough!) cosmetic issues that I covered up with the finest duct tape, thumbtacks, and staple guns that are in my storage shed.


So hypothetically, I could give both to the charity so that food runs could be made on a weekly basis. Or I could just retail both, donate the proceeds, and let volunteers continue to use their own vehicles.

It all sounds like a good and easy thought for a rare snowy north Georgia afternoon. But then, I had this strange thought in my head that just wouldn’t quit.

“How far could I make a $100 car work if I kept on retailing the proceeds, and wrote about it?”


What if I reconditioned both vehicles a bit, re-sold them during tax season, buy another vehicle or two, rinsed, repeated, and kept trying to pay it forward until the end of the year?

Maybe the $515 I have invested at the moment in these two (along with the duct tape) can turn into $5000? Or more?

Maybe I may just end up with two cars that are junkyard fodder? Financially these two running vehicles would yield more from the local recycling center than what I already paid for them. So the risk here isn’t that much.


There have been mumblings about getting a fun car for a while now here at TTAC. At the moment, I have a 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood stretch limo that was apparently used by a strip joint in Miami way back in the Clinton Era, and I have, well, these two Explorers. I have about $3200 in the Cadillac, and until my kids have degrees and that rare good job, I need to keep that money working for me. But these two Explorers I can definitely spare, and invest a bit of my time and resources.

So what should I do? Buy? Sell? Hold? Donate? Offer Firestone a golden opportunity to associate themselves with Explorers in a good way? I’m always open to suggestions, and volunteers.

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Hammer Time: The Cars Of The Cave Bears Wed, 08 Jan 2014 13:30:27 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

I live in a small, genteel, Southern colonial home that comes with all the local goodies.

An over-sized ceiling fan in every room. A little front porch that offers a palatial view of the rolling prairies of Deliverance country.

Throw in a mint julep, homemade lemonade, and the belting baritone of Paul Robeson, and the world becomes my oyster.

Except not right now. It’s too damn cold outside. Which got me to thinking…

What would you say is the best car for cold weather?

Part of me would say that the Swedes would have this wrapped up. Volvos from the 850 on forward have offered heating systems that are warm enough to tend to the most delicate of Southern frailties after a few minutes of cold.

Whenever I used to take my family from their comfortable bucolic life of North Georgia, to my brutal native land of Northern New Jersey, I would take a Volvo along for the ride. Great heat. Wonderful leather seats. A nice balance of good outdoor visibility and a cocoon-like interior. A lot of folks don’t have a lot of love for the 850/S70 Volvos for their long-term cost and reliability issues, but I have always enjoyed their balance of safety, good heat, and solid fuel economy.

I like SAABs as well for many of the same reasons. Great seats, nice heat, livable fuel economy, and packaging that strikes the right balance of sight and safety when visiting the cold strange ancient lands that are no longer my home. The fact that older GM based sleds, like the more recent SAABs, tend to offer outstanding heat, also helps balance off some of the quirkiness of these vehicles.

Still, I wonder on a day like this whether there are other rides that are even better choices? Does a Jeep Grand Cherokee offer a better cold weather package than a Ford Explorer? Would a Lincoln Town Car be more safe and splendorous than a Cadillac Escalade if you had to do your daily commutes in the coldest of cold winters? Small heating area favors the smaller rides. But then you have to worry about everyone else on the road.

So my question for you is, if you had to survive with cold weather, snow and ice for twelve months of the year and had, say, a $30,000 budget for anything new or used, what would be your choice?

Oh, and a one way ticket to a country that plays limbo with the equator does not count. Please consider this a chance to spend $30k on something that would almost make that trade of temp worth it.


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In The SUV Sales Race, Boring Is King Wed, 10 Oct 2012 16:38:40 +0000

What do the Honda CR-V and Ford Explorer have in common? Both recieved lukewarm receptions from the automotive press. The Explorer was doomed from the get-go for abandoning its body-on-frame construction and whatever connotations of rugged off-road capability that came with it. Of course, nobody understood that CAFE and economies of scale, the two driving forces behind every decision in today’s automotive world, were responsible for the switch. The CR-V lacked exciting EcoTurboPowerBoost engines and swoopy styling, and so it was largely forgotten by the press. But now both trucks have the last laugh.

In the small SUV segment, the CR-V is still king. While the Ford Escape edged out the CR-V in September, the year-to-date figures show the CR-V on top by about 13,000 units. We are investigating rumors that Ford has been dumping hail-damaged Escapes onto fleet customers at cut rate prices, while Honda traditionally avoids fleet sales. I’ve long maintained that the CR-V has the kinds of features that matter to buyers in this segment, and as nice as some of the more upscale offerings are, it’s hard to argue with a vehicle that just works in ways you need it to.

The Explorer has a near 6,000 unit lead over the second-place Jeep Grand Cherokee in the YTD rankings. September sales were much closer, with only 1,500 units separating the two. The incentive war heading into the final months of 2012 should make this race particularly interesting.

The full-size SUV standings are pretty much decided in favour the Chevrolet Tahoe, and one can only wonder how much GM’s massive government fleet sale in June helped push the Tahoe to the top of the standings. As gas prices continue to climb, this segment will matter less and less. Most of the field saw double digit declines in September.

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Review: 2013 Ford Explorer Sport Tue, 02 Oct 2012 19:22:12 +0000

Want a quick, agile, fun-to-drive vehicle you can stuff a bunch of kids into? Ford has what you’re looking for. Just one catch: you’ll have to move to Europe. Not that Ford sees no market here for a swift seven-seater. They do, just not for one like the S-Max. Instead, for 2013 we receive the Explorer Sport. CEO Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” vision apparently acknowledges that some models must remain regional. Here’s what real Americans want in a high-performance crossover…

Paint it black

You can slap “Sport” on just about anything. When you really mean it, you paint everything black: grille, mirrors, window trim, wheels, luggage rack. Though the wheels might be a bit much (more attractive dubs are available on the 2013 Limited), overall the sport treatment suits the Explorer’s clean, muscular shape. It’s a handsome beast.

But not so black on the inside

Ford didn’t go so black inside the Explorer Sport, aside from offering the interior only in charcoal (with optional brown seat inserts). Most of the trim is the same silver-painted plastic used in other Explorers, not the more fashion forward “piano black” sort. The touch-sensitive control panel for the 390-watt Sony audio system is piano black, but both the panel and the system are the same as in an Explorer Limited.

Materials are mostly worthy of the Explorer Sport’s price, with the doors and instrument panel squishy to the touch. Exceptions include switches and shift paddles on the steering wheel that feel insubstantial and obviously fake stitching on the doors’ armrests.

The interior forms are as tastefully clean as in any Audi, with none of the polarizing details common inside GM, Hyundai, and Toyota vehicles. Visual interest is provided by the MyFord Touch three-screen light show, with its vibrant multi-color graphics (and continued, if reduced, usability issues). A note to both GM and Ford: don’t recess touch screens that have “buttons” along the bottom edge.

Bigger is better

Both GM and Ford ran the numbers, then ran them again, and perhaps a third time after that. Each time they arrived at the same conclusion: Americans have no interest in Euro-style seven-seat MPVs. In adapting the Freestyle / Taurus X to create a crossover Americans were more likely to buy, Ford shaved three inches from the length (to yield 197.1) but added two to the height (70.4) and four to the width (78.9). You can’t buy a beamier Ford without a bed – even the gargantuan Expedition EL is a skosh narrower. The Explorer Sport’s driving position is sized for a giant. Everything appears massive. The second row isn’t quite as roomy, but unlike those in most competitors it is comfortably high off the floor. The third row? If you need it to be comfortable for adults, and everyone is toting a couple of bags, forget about sport entirely and get an Expedition EL. But if kids are going in the way back and everyone’s judicious in their packing, the Explorer will do.

Comfort is king

The pervasive black paint is about as hardcore as the Explorer Sport gets. The seats are no firmer than those in the regular Explorer. Nor are their bolsters better endowed. They’re the same seats. And they’re excellent, large and cushy but with proper support. After two hours behind the wheel, my troublesome back was no trouble at all.

The Explorer’s roof pillars might make even GM’s stoutest appear flimsy, but for Sport duty a little more structure was deemed necessary. A couple of cross-car braces have been added. In another sign that “Sport” might mean something this time, the 265/45R20 tires are available in Y-rated three-season form (for $995). And the suspension and steering have been firmed up. But, like the related Taurus SHO, the Explorer Sport is no track day special. Comfort remains a higher priority than handling, and aside from some tire patter and a touch of whine on concrete (with the optional tires, at least) the ride can hardly be faulted. Kick the speed up well past the legal limit and you still feel like you’re barely moving.

Safety is queen

With the firmed-up chassis the Explorer Sport behaves well when the road turns. It doesn’t have a choice. “Curve control” modulates the throttle and brakes to keep the crossover well within its limits. Requests from your right foot are treated as suggestions. The system isn’t terribly obtrusive. You don’t feel the yank in the chain. You just push down the go pedal post-apex, and nothing extra happens until the steering is unwound. I requested a “Sport” option on the standard “Terrain Management System” to disable or at least dial back the electronic overlord. The chief engineer’s muted response suggested that this isn’t going to happen. Do memories of the 2001 rollover debacle remain too fresh?

Granted, the curve control system still allows the Explorer Sport to be pitched through curves more aggressively than your significant other will like. When so pitched, lean is moderate, body motions are well controlled, and the electronics (torque vectoring in additional to the curve control system) effectively limit plow. But there’s just enough indecisiveness in the steering and not-quite-rightness to the axes of rotation (the electronics cannot entirely mask the inherent dynamics of the chassis) that my confidence was crimped. I knew the Explorer Sport would behave properly, but I didn’t feel it in my gut the way I do with a BMW X5 or even a Cadillac Escalade.

The all-wheel-drive system has been tweaked for the Sport, but the most it can do is lock the center differential and so shunt 50 percent of the torque aft. There’s nothing like an active rear differential to really make things interesting. This would be pointless without a way to get the Curve Control to back off.

Sport = moar powah

These days, the fastest European and Japanese cars also tend to be big and heavy. But in the postwar decades this was a very American formula. No matter how big or how heavy the vehicle, it could be made to accelerate quickly, and this was what driving enthusiasm was really about. With 365 horsepower to move its 2.5 tons, the Explorer Sport accelerates briskly. You can rev this engine with no ill effects, but it’s really in its element in the midrange. Need some speed to pass on a two-lane or hop onto the freeway? You’ll have it before you realize it, and once you realize it you’ll be scanning the rearview mirror for flashing lights.

Given its hefty curb weight and level of insulation, the Explorer Sport would need even more power to feel brutally quick in the manner of a BMW X5 M or Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. This isn’t likely to happen. There’s only so much the transverse transmission can handle, and that amount seems to be 350 pound-feet (and this much only through extra protection afforded by special lubricants and sophisticated electronic controls). In the F-150 pickup, with a longitudinal transmission, the EcoBoost V6 peaks at 420 pound-feet, and even that number is likely well short of the engine’s potential. Aftermarket tuners could add 100 horsepower, easy. But how long would the transaxle then last?

Gas isn’t a buck a gallon anymore

Pitching a 365-horsepower engine as a solution for (rather than the source of) fuel efficiency concerns—brilliant! What will marketeers think of next, chocolate cookies and cakes as diet foods? (Oh, wait…) At least they come by the claim somewhat honestly. The boosted engine doesn’t quite match the EPA ratings of its naturally-aspirated 290-horsepower relation, but at 16 city and 22 highway the penalty is a single mile per gallon. The Dodge Durango’s 360-horsepower V8 lags far behind, with 13 city and 20 highway. This assumes you don’t push the V6 too hard. Turbos pump up power by forcing more air into an engine, making it inhale as much as a larger, unboosted engine. At which point it will also burn as much fuel as a larger, unboosted engine. After driving the related Taurus SHO hard around a winding loop, I observed “5.8 AVG MPG” on the trip computer.

Fords should be affordable

Back in the day, Ford NA built ‘em cheap and stacked ‘em deep. With a few rare, unsuccessful exceptions, this kept our shores safe from pricey FoE models. Lately, though, Ford has loftier aspirations. They’re largely leaving the cheap seats for others. If you want a 365-horsepower crossover with semi-premium trimmings, the bill starts at $41,545. You can get captain’s chairs, nav, and a panoramic sunroof as standalone options, but others are bundled into a $4,130 package. The tested vehicle included this package, the summer performance tires, and extra-cost red paint (which suits the shape well), but not the sunroof or captain’s, for a grand total of $47,065.

The Explorer Sport doesn’t come with quite as much standard as the Limited AWD. Its base price is only $865 higher, but adjusting for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool bumps this to $1,790. This seems beyond reasonable for a pair of turbos and the other tweaks.

When the Explorer Sport’s chief engineer was asked which vehicles most directly compete with his car, he suggested the Dodge Durango R/T and the Land Rover Ranger Rover Sport HSE. Noticing some head scratchers amongst the assembled media, he added that a large number of Land Rover owners have been trading down into the Explorer. Who knew there were even a large number of Land Rover owners? Looking at the comparison that makes some sense, a Durango R/T lists for $1,240 less before adjusting for feature differences, and $2,110 less afterwards.

Aside from the Durango, only premium European brands offer a seven-seat crossover with EcoBoost V6-level power. The Explorer Sport can’t match the X5 in terms of handling, but an ML550 is a different story. When both the Ford and Mercedes are loaded up, the latter is exactly $25,000 more before adjusting for feature differences, $23,000 more afterwards. So while the Explorer Sport isn’t exactly affordable, it is relatively affordable.

So, where do you want to live?

Many of us connected the dots a couple of years ago, when Ford introduced a new Explorer based on the same platform that underpins the Taurus and Flex, but without the option of the EcoBoost engine offered in those models. Apparently someone inside Ford thought it insufficient to add a pair of snails to the six and call it a day, as was done with the Flex and a pair of related Lincolns. Instead, they waited a couple of model years so they might offer a complete package along the lines of the Taurus SHO. The package still isn’t quite complete, as the Sport’s handling is overly hobbled, but it’s nevertheless well worth its additional cost.

Even if Curve Control could be disabled, the list of agile three-row vehicles is a short one, and this 4,921 pound beastie wouldn’t be on it. In the U.S., the list pretty much begins and ends with the Mazda5. In Europe, it’s a little longer.

On the other hand, the Explorer Sport offers a combination of power, space, and comfort that you simply cannot get from a non-premium brand in Europe. What is more needed in a three-row crossover, these things, or agile handling? Maybe fecund European driving enthusiasts should be moving here.

Ford provided the vehicle along with an excellent lunch at a media event.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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Explorer Sport Offers Twin-Turbo Ecoboost For Just North of $40K Sat, 09 Jun 2012 22:38:35 +0000

When I was a young pup shucking out new Willow Green 1995 Explorer XLTs at MSRP or close to it, the Explorer Sport was the unwanted, low-markup, undesirable-demographic, showroom-poison, short-wheelbase, ugly-duckling, obvious-descendant-of-the-Bronco-II, credit-criminal-friendly… oh, you get the idea, right? Nobody wanted them and we didn’t bother to stock them in any quantity.

Those days are long gone, and so is the two-door SUV; the last short-wheelbase Explorer to darken a dealer’s floorplan left the factory over a decade ago. Now, Explorer “Sport” means six-cylinder Ecoboost.

The Explorer Sport is the only Explorer with a base price over $40,000, but it’s reasonably well-equipped and, as seen below, arrives with all the goodies for under fifty grand. Put aside for the moment the fact that fully-loaded Explorers used to sell for thirty K, and it could almost be considered a value. Your humble author continues, however, to recommend the Flex over the Explorer; it does everything the “SUV” might reasonably be expected to do, offers a better third row, and looks like a design statement instead of a melted soap bar.

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Memo To Ford: Expand Use Of Buttons Beyond 2013 F-Series Tue, 05 Jun 2012 18:39:41 +0000

The big news for the 2013 Ford F-Series appears to be the use of buttons, rather than trying to cram MyFord Touch down the gaping maw of every single product in the lineup implementing the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Apparently, it all has to do with work gloves.

Damon Lavrinc, of Wired magazine (and the authority on the nexus between the automotive and tech worlds) spoke to a Ford rep, who said that F-Series customers preferred physical controls over touchscreens, since the capactive controls tend to function poorly when work gloves are involved. Lavrinc went on to note that Ford was wise to stick to the formula that’s made the F-Series the best selling vehicle in American since time immemorial.

My question to Ford is this; construction workers are likely wearing gloves only during certain parts of the day. What about those who live in the snow belt, where for as much as 6 months of the year, motorists are wearing gloves all the time? Aside from the usual drawbacks of MyFord Touch (the distractions, awkward responses etc), having to jockey ones gloves on and off for simple tasks isn’t exactly an example of technology making one’s life easier.

The Wired article also quotes a Ford spokesperson admitting that only 50 percent of Edge and Explorer customers actually like the MyFord Touch system.There is evidently a large number of consumers who aren’t that interested in having to tap and finger-jab their way to a slower fan speed or different radio station, and there are plenty of good alternatives being sold at virtually every other dealership.

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BRB Driving Police Cars Thu, 26 Apr 2012 14:02:26 +0000

Today is a busy day. Bertel and Ed are off somewhere plotting their next round of skullduggery, Murilee is prowling the junkyards of Denver for the elusive 1991 Isuzu Impulse AWD, Jack is laid up in bed with an illness certainly caught from his child’s pre-school, Steve and Sajeev are collaborating on their next hit column and I am commiting a cardinal sin according to the Church of Panther…fraternizing with the enemy.

Ford has invited me to drive the newest Police Interceptor cars today – and while driving a police car has been a fantasy of mine since childhood, I’m sure some of you must be wondering how the newest versions stack up against the beloved Panther-based CVPI. Let me know in the comments. Ford probably won’t let us take the cars off the test course, but if they do, I’ll make sure to get video of me pulling up to my girlfriend’s workplace, sirens blaring, calling her name on the megaphone.



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Ford Explorer Sport Gets 3.5L Ecoboost Wed, 28 Mar 2012 19:29:18 +0000

Anyone looking for a Ford Taurus SHO with a bit more room and towing capacity have their prayers answered with the Ford Explorer Sport.


Yes, it may be an answer to a question that nobody asked. The Explorer Sport will get a 350 horsepower 3.5L Ecoboost V6 engine as well as a six-speed automatic. Bigger brakes,  qucker steering and a revised exterior will seperate the Sport from lesser Explorers. Fuel economy is expected to be 16/22 mpg and the Explorer Sport should be able to tow 5,000 lbs. Anyone who ever missed out on a Saleen XP8 can now have their shot at a hi-po SUV from the Blue Oval.

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Review: 2011 Ford Explorer XLT AWD Tue, 08 Feb 2011 15:33:59 +0000

Imagine, for a moment, you are a plant. Well, not just any plant. You are Robert Plant, and everywhere you go, people want you to sing “Stairway to Heaven”. I’d rather not, you tell them. Never liked that one much, to be honest. We’ve a much better song that I’d much rather sing. Called ‘Kashmir’, dontcha know. Much better, that one. For years, you refuse to perform the song. You cancel a proposed Led Zeppelin reunion because the promotion company insists, positively insists, that you play “Stairway”. You’d rather play “Kashmir”. And since you don’t really need the money, that’s the end of it.

I suspect the people who run Ford can sympathize a bit with Mr. Plant. Their “Stairway” is a four-door SUV called the Explorer. You might have heard of it. Sold a bunch, that Explorer, even though it was always kind of a hokey tune, a Ranger truck with a cap and a couple rows of plastic-leather seats, perched sky-high on underinflated Firestones.

The Explorer was never a truly outstanding answer to the family-wagon question, so a couple years back Ford created the Flex, which is an outstanding answer. It should have made the Explorer obsolete, but there were two problems. It wasn’t really an SUV, and it wasn’t an Explorer. And since Ford, unlike Zeppelin’s Golden God, needs the money…

The first two generations of Explorers were fundamentally pickup trucks. This one is fundamentally a car, which is to say it’s another variant of Ford’s much-loved (and much-hated) D3/4 platform. The company makes no secret of this, preferring to point out all the ways in which D3 has been updated for modern duty in general and SUV duty in particular. Although the rocker-panel-covering doors and bizarre QIX-pattern footwells remain, the driver now sits in an entirely new relationship to the rest of the vehicle.

Wide is the word here. The Explorer’s driver seat feels almost centrally located. There’s clear air between the chair and the armrest, with the door itself seemingly a foot and a half thick. The modern tradition of shoulder-height sills is fully respected in this car, as well. My transactions with the local Burger King gave me the distinct impression of being trapped in an oubliette, passing money and food through a distant trap door. It’s as far from the thin-door, narrow-body 1994 original as one can imagine, and it’s clearly designed to pander to all those perceived security issues supposedly experienced by female drivers.

My contract with TTAC allows me to make one “Xzibit” joke every month, so here it is: Sup dawg, we heard you like Audis, so we put an Audi in your Explorer so you can feel smug while you drive, yo. Ford didn’t just benchmark the leading German interior designs with this new vehicle; they actively riff off them. My favorite part? The power-lock button. It’s set within a delicate, perfect chrome ring, which is then set within the shiny black speaker grille for the door-mounted tweeter. As a complete design and execution statement, the Explorer’s interior is easily a match for that of the Grand Cherokee. The Japanese and the GM Lambdas aren’t even on the same playing field, and you’ll need to lease a Q7 with all the options if you want to see the next round of the game.

Ford’s complete myFordTouch system makes its second appearance here after the debut in the Edge. As with the Edge, there’s that odd cognitive dissonance between the pressure-touch main screen (as one might find in a modern automated teller machine) and the capacitance-touch center stack (think iPhone or Droid). Nor is the HVAC system particularly glove-friendly, unless you’re one of those hipsters who wears the special iPad gloves. If you are one of those “people’, feel free to go back to Jalopnik and read today’s feature article on hovercrafts, experimental aircraft, celebrity genitalia, or whatever other non-automotive thing they’re doing today. If, on the other hand, you are a member of that harried species known as “the American parent”, you will simply adore the way it’s possible to wipe down the whole console at once with a damp rag. No buttons means no crevices for dust, food, coffee, or soda, you see. That kind of stuff matters.

Speaking of parenthood for a moment… Let’s talk child seats. The Flex is a kid-seat superstar, able to effortlessly swallow two of today’s monstrous rear-facing infant enclosures without cramping the other passengers or permanently disfiguring the seatbacks ahead of them. It also has adult-sized seats in the third row and plenty of ways to get back there. Only minivans do it better.

Don’t expect the same accomodation from the Explorer. There’s a price to be paid for SUV styling, and in this case the price comes in the form of a shorter wheelbase. Forward-facing seats are okay, as demonstrated here by my fellow stunt driver John “Trip” Baruth III, but putting an infant in the second row will mean discomfort for the people sitting in rows one and three. Do not, however, imagine for a single moment that any of the competition is even slightly better in this regard.

By the numbers, the Explorer’s cargo capacity falls way behind that of the GM Lambdas, with approximately eighty cubic feet of max space versus one hundred and sixteen, but numbers might not tell the whole story. Real-world capacity probably isn’t that different, and the web forums are abuzz with allegations of clever measurement and fractions of cubic feet found in cubbyholes. Still, if you need the absolute maximum storage, the Acadia and siblings are the ticket. Same goes for towing: the Explorer tops out at five thousand pounds. To be fair, however, a Tahoe or Expedition would have far more towing and cargo capacity at a cost which wouldn’t be much higher. My experience pulling my race car on an open trailer with my Flex indicates that the D4 chassis is more than up to the job, but that the transmission just feels delicate. Serious towing with a sideways gearbox frightens me, and it should frighten you, too.

I was lucky enough to get some snow and ice during my time with the Explorer, and I found it to be more or less as competent as the AWD Flex, which is to say competent enough. As with the Land Rovers and Jeeps, there’s a “terrain dial” with four settings. I didn’t read the manual, but the settings are clearly for

  • Truck Mode
  • Spaceships And Railroad Tracks
  • Cactus Proximity
  • Giant Snowflakes

Rotating the dial produces a “click” and the satisfying sense that one has chosen an appropriate response for a situation. If there is any other effect, I could not discern it. The AWD system behaves about the same in all circumstances, permitting a little slip in the front before kicking the back in sans subtlety. Apparently the amount of permitted wheelspin is different in each setting, with the Spaceship setting being the most strict, just in case the aliens are police aliens looking to write tickets for street racing.

Speaking of… There’s not yet an EcoBoost option for the Explorer, whether you take “EcoBoost” to mean the fuel-economy-optimized four-cylinder option promised last year or the full-speed-ahead Taurus SHO engine that makes the Flex so entertaining to operate. Instead, there’s the single Duratec V-6 that powers most of the big Fords. It’s fast enough and it’s willing to rev when required, but if you want to hustle you’d be better off with a HEMI Durango. This isn’t aimed at the driving enthusiast. Feel free to wave your pink slip at an Enclave or a Pilot, but your neighbor’s RAV4 will show you its taillights.

Who is the Explorer customer? Well, it will have to be somebody with a decent job. Ford’s not a discount car company any more, and it’s trivially easy to bust the $40K mark when specifying an XLT, to say nothing of the Limited. The typical “intender” is probably female, upper-middle-class, image-oriented. She may have a few kids, or she may be an empty-nester. She won’t take the Explorer off-road, but then again, only a very committed few ever did, and they were used-truck buyers, not new-truck buyers. She will like the new styling — I was surprised how many positive comments I received about a vehicle which I personally thought was on the wrong side of visually generic — and she will adore the interior.

As a Ford salesman in the mid-Nineties, I continually struggled to divert Explorer buyers into Taurus wagons. I had a dozen reasons primed and ready to go in favor of the ovoid bull, from fuel economy to crash safety, with a pinch of comfort thrown in. I never made a convert. If you’re in the market for an Explorer, you’re in the market for an Explorer, period, point blank. The Flex is a fabulous vehicle, and “Kashmir” is a fabulous song, but in the long run… she’s buying a “Stairway to Heaven”.

A face intended for mothers to love. IMG_8547 IMG_8554 IMG_8555 IMG_8556 IMG_8560 Ford's Terrain Management System on the all new Explorer SUV Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 88
Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Crossover A Dirty Word? Thu, 12 Aug 2010 21:20:14 +0000

I recently attended a fancy-pants dinner held by Chrysler PR for some Houston-area bloggers. We were wined, dined and introduced to the 2011 Grand Cherokee. While free food and journalistic integrity are a tough combo to swallow, I found something entertaining and inherently blog worthy: the castrated 2011 Ford Explorer is in the new Grand Cherokee’s gunsight. Why? One of the SUV’s most famous nameplates is now a crossover, while another is still an SUV. But neither of them like being called names.

It’s a fair assumption to say that, for the past two years, those buying Explorers are committed to the SUV lifestyle, with loyalty only trumped by fleet buyers of Ford’s Panther chassis. How many of these fans who didn’t jump ship to Ford’s Edge, Flex, Freestyle or Taurus X crossovers are gonna go for their namesake’s new, girly-man reincarnation?

The 2011 Grand Cherokee claims safe haven from the nightmare of crossover ownership. And Chrysler knows it: mentioning the JGC’s off-road friendly removable bumper insert, Cayenne-worthy independent air suspension, Rover-like approach angles, crossover-killing towing prowess and rear wheel drive poise. The original Cherokee proved that body-on-frame isn’t necessary for an SUV, so maybe they are on to something. I might even find out for myself with a PR-sanctioned road test.

Not to mention that this anti-crossover has a HEMI under the hood. Just don’t call it a HEMI, as that goes against Jeep’s (intended) branding orientation. That’s when the conversation went back to the Explorer, and something that journos aren’t supposed to mention: the words “Explorer” and “crossover” in the same sentence. But wait, the Explorer is indeed a crossover. It’s certainly exploring the realm of crossovers. It’s a Ford Five Hundred that explored Dearborn’s parts bin for a crossover-worthy lift kit. Explorer…it’s a crossover.

And the Jeep’s gotta HEMI. Wait, do I hear someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door?

And that’s the question posed to the B&B: is the 2011 Explorer really a crossover, and does that Jeep gotta HEMI?

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The 2011 Explorer: It’s A Car Mon, 26 Jul 2010 05:37:46 +0000

One week ago, I was given a “sneak peek” of the new Explorer at Ford’s Product Development Center in Dearborn. I learned then what you all probably know by now: The new Explorer is a D3-platform vehicle, offering reasonably spacious seven-seat packaging, the myFordTouch in-car entertainment system, a twin-LCD dashboard, and a 237-horsepower turbo four as the base engine.

In other words, it’s a car, just like the Honda Pilot is a car and the Toyota Highlander is a car.

Faced with the prospect of engineering a clean-sheet body-on-frame midsized truck to meet all possible safety, efficiciency, and feature-content concerns, Ford did the easier thing and simply revised the Flex a bit.

Some commentators are hitting Ford hard for “abandoning the authentic Explorer”. That’s mostly nonsense. As we’ve discussed on TTAC for the past few days, the average Explorer customer simply wanted a modern, feature-packed family wagon with four-wheel-drive. The new model meets those needs easily, and better than ever before. Nobody ever cared that the Explorer was body-on-frame. If anything, they were annoyed by it. Those annoyances have disappeared.

With the exceptions of tow capacity and suitability for “mudder” conversion ten years after the original owner trades it in, the new Explorer is simply superior to anything Ford’s ever put the nameplate on. From the Audi-esque interior to the rather fascinating new “curve control” that should all but eliminate freeway off-ramp accidents, it’s chock-full of technological innovation.

I’m particularly impressed by the way Ford has chosen to take a full-throttle approach to occupant safety. Name a concern with the previous models — from tippiness to passive safety to handling issues — and you will see that it’s been more than addressed in the new Explorer. I expect it to post a very impressive safety record. Ford’s not taking chances here.

In a world where the Ford Flex did not exist, this Explorer would represent the ultimate domestic family wagon… and that’s the problem. Compared to the Explorer, the Flex has more room, more available power, and styling that is far less “me-too”. It dispenses with the “high and mighty” idiocy and provides a seating position that is neither Corvette low nor traffic-blocking high. The electronic goodies will find their way over in the near future — the 2011 Edge already has them — and the third-row seating is, frankly, non-trivially better. If you want an Explorer, you probably really want a Flex.

In the real world, however, people buy cars based on bizarre notions of prestige, protection against unreal threats, and the likely effects on their neighbors’ libidos. Look for the Explorer to do well in the real world. It plays the same game Honda and Toyota play, and plays it to win.

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Ask the Best And Brightest: Has The Explorer Been A Bright Spot Or Low Light? Sat, 24 Jul 2010 20:34:58 +0000

As we roll along towards tomorrow’s social-media-focused reveal of the 2011 Explorer, I thought we’d take one last time to discuss the old trucks and their general merits. It’s possible to argue that the Explorer has provided quality transport for millions of American families; it’s also possible to cast the vehicle in the role of villain, with its victims being those same families, the environment, and the shape of the American auto market.

I’ll make both arguments below, and then I’d like to hear your opinion.

Pro: When the Explorer debuted, CAFE regulations and changing perceptions had all but killed-off the family station wagon. The last all-new family-sized RWD American wagons debuted from Ford and General Motors in 1978, twelve full years before the Explorer’s arrival.

The price, performance, available four-wheel-drive, and interior space suited customers exceptionally well, and even if 95% of potential customers would have been better-served by a modern RWD station wagon, there simply wasn’t one to be had at a reasonable price.

As pointed out in the TTAC comments, the Explorer has always had a decent overall safety record, and the 2002-forward model has been much better than average in this regard. It’s an all-purpose vehicle, giving families the ability to tow, haul, and make through nearly any weather conditions. Until the arrival of the crossovers, it was the most “real-world” of the SUVs, with a focus on over-the-road competence instead of imaginary off-road heroics.

It’s a good truck.

Con: The Ford Explorer is the vehicle that took Americans out of family sedans and wagons, putting them in a heavy, fuel-sucking, rollover-prone, unsafe pickup truck with a cap on it. It’s been a scam from Day One, earning Ford billions of dollars and dodging both CAFE and safety regulations thanks to its truck roots.

The vast majority of Explorer purchasers bought too much truck, paid too much, and received too little. The fuel consumption differences between an Explorer and a Taurus wagon, multiplied by the millions of units sold, amount to a staggering waste of the planet’s resources.

The Explorer was a bad product that drove good product out of the marketplace. It encouraged automakers to sell more converted pickups and was directly responsible for such abominations as the four-door S-10 Blazer and TrailBlazer. The sales volume of the Explorer effectively killed-off Taurus development, most notably Taurus wagon development, depriving hundreds of thousands of families of safer, more economical, and more reasonable transportation.

The Explorer helped teach America to get back in two-ton vehicles that got 14 miles per gallon, just when Toyota and Honda had taught them to get out of those vehicles. And some of them died for the privilege of riding “high and mighty” above their neighbors.

It’s a national disgrace.

I won’t say how I personally feel about the old Explorer. I’m also prohibited from talking about the new Explorer, but suffice it to say that I feel the new vehicle helps address both viewpoints above. Until you can see it, though, let’s talk about the old ones…

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Capsule Review: 1994 Explorer and the Not So Naughty Nurse Fri, 23 Jul 2010 17:00:38 +0000

The 1995 Explorer gave me a real taste of what it must be like to be an “order-taker” at a Honda or Toyota dealership. Customers drove up, took whatever we had on the lot, and paid sticker without complaining. We were perennially short on inventory, which of course didn’t keep my flamboyant General Manager from reserving one for his personal use.

Glenn, the GM in question, liked to have things just so. Once every two or three months, he ordered a white Explorer XLT 945A with a few extra options. As soon as his new one showed up, we had to sell his old one. It was a system that worked very well; since Glenn’s demo was the only Explorer on which we offered any real discount, it was a quick sale.

Several Explorers back, Glenn’s personal whip had been involved in a mild fender-bender and had been shuttled off to the body shop. It was placed on the back burner because it was an “in-house” deal, but when it returned, we all marveled at how perfectly it had been repaired. It looked like a brand-new 1994 Explorer.

Which it was.

And it returned to us in January of 1995, in the middle of a monster snowstorm.

Did I mention it was two-wheel-drive?

Droopy, our dealership principal, was angry. He was the proud owner of a $29,200 1994 Explorer XLT RWD in the middle of the 1995 winter. The ’95 Explorer was incomparably superior to the ’94. It had independent front suspension, a completely revamped interior, more room, a better stereo, NVH refinements, you name it. It was also totally restyled and made the old one look like a brick.

We didn’t have a single RWD 1995 model on the lot, because two-wheel-drive SUVs are lot filler during a tough Ohio winter. Glenn’s demo was a triple threat: last year’s model, tricky in the snow, and it had crash damage which would have to be reported to the lucky new owner. The law’s quite clear on that. In the early Eighties, BMW was infamous for delivering damaged cars to dealers. Those dealers would then silently repair the cars at the lowest possible cost. Cue the early rust, the indignant yuppies, the class-action suit.

At first, we thought the truck might move at invoice price, so we advertised it at $25,999. No takers. Every week the price dropped. Droopy finally made us put it in the showroom with “$21,999″ on the windshield. Seven grand discount. And it still didn’t sell. Buyers would come in, see the price, and get interested. Then they’d find out it was RWD, and that they couldn’t lease it, and they would drive away in a new ’95 instead.

On a do-nothing Friday afternoon, a blond woman in her late thirties pulled in behind the wheel of a Tempo. She was my “up”. Naturally, she wanted an Explorer. She still owed money on her Tempo; Tim the used-car guy quoted it at $2500 below her payoff. It occurred to me that we could bury the negative equity in Glenn’s ’94.

Of course, she wanted to drive it, and I had to go along. I’d learned to be fearful of winter test drives with women, particularly in RWD trucks. No need to worry this time. Karen, the customer, handled the Explorer like a Finnish rally driver. I was honestly impressed, and she was perfectly comfortable with the truck.

If shopping for cars is like dating, the credit application is like getting naked for the first time. There’s a little frisson on both sides of the table… and when Karen got naked for me, we had some problems. She had recently divorced her doctor husband and was working part-time as a nurse. $35K annual income, $18K of support payments from the hubby, two kids, big house. This was going to be a problem.

While our unsuspecting customer played with her hair and read brochures at my desk, the F&I guy, Glenn, and I put our heads together and started calling banks. Nobody wanted to touch this. Finally, our guy at Ford Motor Credit laid down the law: They would finance the truck over 60 months and bury the negative equity… with $10,000 down. This was equivalent to saying “F off,” since divorced women with low income rarely have a spare $10K just lying around.

The three of us sat there shellshocked. We were going to have this 1994 Explorer until we all lost our jobs, which had to be an imminent occurrence. It’s hard to put across just how antiquated the ’94 looked in the showroom. The interior was straight out of the 1984 Ranger; shiny, hard-edged. It had the old single-DIN Ford radio when everything else in the showroom had a double-DIN. Worst of all, it didn’t have a freaking driver-side airbag, so it had the old-style Ford truck steering wheel. Just looking at that was enough to make customers think twice.

“Get out there,” Glenn said, “and ask that bitch for ten grand.” I walked back to my desk with the shuffling gait of the condemned man. Karen looked up, and that was when I realized that I wanted to see her naked in the non-financial sense, too. She was good-looking, a bit zaftig for my twenty-three-year-old taste, but as I sat down I knew that I would now have the extra annoyance of delivering bad news to somebody to whom I was rather attracted. I prepared to deliver my usual line, which was “We’ve got some good news.”

“Karen, we have some… bad news, I guess. You know, we have, ah, some negative equity here, and with, ah, the cost of the Explorer, um, well, it turns out the banks would want, like, um, ah, something in the neighborhood of the, um, ten thousand dollar range to, you know, make this happen…”


“Um, well, yes, the approximate range of the down payment, which…”

“Okay.” What did she just say?

“What did you just say?”

“Will you take a check?”

“Um, hold on…” She had the money! The court had actually given her a little more than that upon the successful completion of her divorce. Make it a lot more. She stroked the check out of her personal account and the bank verified that, yes, she could cover that one and plenty more just like it. Ten minutes later I was moving the approximately two hundred pounds of shopping bags, clothing, and random items from her Tempo to her new Explorer. On the way out, she reached up, hugged me close, and kissed me on my cheek.

“I’m so happy,” she whispered hotly into my ear. Me too, Karen. Me, too.

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Capsule Review: 1995 Explorer And The Disney Deal Fri, 23 Jul 2010 02:45:56 +0000

Having just seen the new Explorer, but being under some kind of embargo, I’ve decided to write about old Explorers this week – jb

My parents raised me to never inquire about another person’s salary, but they didn’t have the chance to deliver this message to everyone else in America. As a result, I’ve seen this question asked of many people, including myself, during my lifetime. There are two ways this question can be answered. The first one is the way that everyone in the universe except paid-on-commission salespeople answer it. The pseudo-math equation is this:

(Reported annual income) = (actual annual income)

Salespeople answer the question differently. In fact, I’ve never met one who failed to give the following answer, expressed in the same style:

(Reported annual income) = ((Best Month Ever) * 12)

With that in mind, what follows is how I earned $108,000 a year selling Ford Explorers in 1995.

I want to explain the magic of the Ford Explorer to you in a way that everyone can understand. During 1995, Ford sold well over 400,000 units of both the Taurus sedan and the Explorer SUV. The average ticket for the Taurus at my dealership was about $17,500. Of that, about $16,000 went to Ford after rebates and holdback. That sixteen grand had to pay for a complex unibody vehicle with expensive components, relatively expensive trim, and a CAFE burden that needed to be addressed by subsidizing Ford Escort sales.

By contrast, the average ticket for an Explorer at my dealership was $29,675, which was what an XLT 4WD with sunroof cost. $26K of that went to Ford. A V-6 Ranger with identical mechanicals could be had for $18K. Get the picture? Ford made big bank on the Explorer. Maybe as much as $10K per unit profit, times 400,000 or more, for nearly a decade.

I arrived in the Ford business during the winter of 1994-5. One of my first sales was a previous-gen 1994 Explorer, and that’s a story I will tell tomorrow, but in general I was there to sell 1995 Explorers. We sold as many Explorers as we did other Ford vehicles combined. This was critical, because Explorers were the only Ford vehicles which sold at sticker that year. It was easy to make $400 commision on Explorer deals, compared to the $50 “minideals” to be had on a Taurus or Contour. Selling five Explorers meant you could eat that month and keep the lights on at home.

The vast majority of Explorer sales were the 945A XLT package. That was leather, sound system, tilt and cruise, 15″ aluminum wheels, tinted glass, and roof rack. It was the cheapest Explorer to lease, because it had the highest residual. Cheapskates and cash buyers were shown the $26,000 941A XLT with flat cloth seats. There was an Explorer XL four-door, but we never sold one.

The Eddie Bauer Explorer was a piece of shit, so we never stocked more than one at a time, compared to the 10-15 945A XLTs we had on hand constantly. The 16″ wheels and big tires made it miserable on the road and the price was well above the critical $30,000 mark. The Limited, at $35,000, was even worse and we wouldn’t even take them on dealer trades. I could lease you a 945A XLT for $450 a month. A Bauer was $650 on the same profit margin; a Limited was $800. Hell no.

There was one engine choice — a 4.0 V6 — and just two drivetrains — RWD and an “Auto 4WD”. We didn’t have a V8, and we didn’t have full-time AWD. It didn’t matter. The Explorer rode well in XLT form, it had all the goodies, it was reasonably spacious, and it looked prosperous. The line formed to the left.

My wedding was planned for August of 1995, and as of July I still had no money for a honeymoon. We didn’t even have any real credit cards to debt-float such a trip, so I figured we would just come home after the blessed event. I was earning an average of $2500 a month at the dealership, and there was no honeymoon money hiding in that figure. Oh well.

Around July 15, a young African-American man came into the dealership to look at Explorers. As is always the case at new-car dealerships, the arrival of a black man caused every salesman in the joint to mysteriously fade away, leaving me alone on the showroom floor. The guy’s name was, I think, Vince. Nice enough, and I took him out for a drive in the 945A XLT demo.

He was sold, at full sticker. The bank came back with an emphatic “HELL NO.” Vince wasn’t fazed; he would take a 941A. No chance. Okay, he’d take a two-door Sport, for $23,995. The bank said he was approved for a maximum of $22,000. Not a penny more. Vince said he had a thousand bucks in his savings account, give or take a few. My boss told me to take him across the street to the used-car shop.

In the converted Burger King which housed our used-car sales offices, I was greeted by Tim, the outrageously greasy and unethical used-car manager. “We have a $23K Explorer, no problem.” I took Vince out for a demo drive in it. It was a ’93 four-door XLT, plenty of equipment, 45,000 miles. I couldn’t believe Tim had the nerve to ask that kind of money for the truck, but Vince liked it. He was “sold and rolled” an hour later. I was called into the sales office to do my commission paperwork.

“Here’s the deal,” Tim said, grinning from ear to ear. “We had that on the lot at $16,995. I pulled the numbers off while you were stalling the mark. We paid $12,500 for it. He signed at $22,995. Pack (the part of the dealer profit on which a salesman is not paid) is $500, net is $9,995. You take 30% of that, $3332.50.”

I felt sick to my stomach. We’d cheated that man, and I said as much to Tim. He was a big Irish guy, and he rose to his feet with violence in his eyes. For the sake of some of the readers who complained about the language in my Aspire review, I will redact this one. “That (African-American) (individual who performs oral sex on men) was fucking stupid enough to pay the ticket. Nobody cheated nobody. Take your money and shut the fuck up before I kick the shit out of you.” Faced with the choice between collecting more than three thousand dollars and losing my job yet again for office fistfighting, I took the money.

Forty days later, my wife and I were in Disneyworld, enjoying a room in the “Contemporary” hotel and eating cost-no-object dinners every night. Energized by my agitation on that deal, I’d managed to earn almost nine thousand dollars that month, selling ten new cars and three used ones. I even bought myself a wedding present — a new HK P7M8 pistol that sold at the time for eleven hundred bucks. Good times.

I returned after a six-day absence to find a message on my desk. Vince had recommended me to a friend who was dealing with credit issues. Could I sell him a great Explorer like I’d sold Vince? On my way out the door that night, I turned, faded back in the jump-shot motion I’d learned playing Catholic-school basketball, and shot the crumpled message into the showroom wastebasket. There are limits.

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