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2015 Ford Explorer: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2015

The 2015 Ford Explorer 3-row crossover is a far cry from the original, rough-and-ready Explorer SUV. Whereas the old Explorer rode atop a truck-based body-on-frame platform, the new model uses unit-body construction that's lighter and more carlike. The old-school engines are also long gone, replaced by state-of-the-art powerplants with such features as direct fuel-injection and turbocharging. About the only thing the new Explorer concedes to the previous truck-based design is towing ability, which drops to a so-so 5,000 pounds.

Relative to current rivals, the Explorer stands apart with its smooth ride, sleek design and high-quality interior with cutting-edge technology. This 7-passenger crossover might not be as roomy as a minivan or even some slightly larger competitors from GM, but there's no doubt that the reinvented Explorer is one of the best of its breed.

What's New for 2015?

The Explorer remains unchanged for 2015, except for an optional appearance package with a few new visual flourishes.

What We Like

Good fuel economy with 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine; luxurious, high-tech interior; smooth and quiet ride; awesome 6-cylinder EcoBoost power

What We Don't

Snug third-row seat; limited towing ability; all-wheel drive not available with 4-cylinder EcoBoost

How Much?

$31,595-$43,995

Fuel Economy

The standard Explorer engine is a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy estimates stand at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive and 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive.

Two EcoBoost turbocharged engines are available. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder EcoBoost, offered only with front-wheel drive, is rated at 240 hp and 270 lb-ft. It offers an impressive fuel economy of 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6, offered only with all-wheel drive, is rated at 365 hp and 350 lb-ft, but its fuel economy drops to 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy.

All three engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, though the EcoBoost V6 gets shift paddles on the steering wheel for manual control.

Standard Features & Options

The Explorer is offered in base, XLT, Limited and Sport trim levels.

The base Explorer ($31,595) starts with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED taillights, trailer sway control, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, a 6-way power driver seat and a 6-speaker audio system with a 4.2-in central display and an auxiliary audio input.

The XLT ($33,895) adds such features as fog lights, upgraded brake calipers, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, the SYNC voice-command system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary controls, rear parking sensors and satellite radio.

The Limited ($39,095) tacks on 20-in alloy wheels, power-folding mirrors with memory, keyless entry/start, the MyFord Touch infotainment system with a touchscreen and a configurable gauge cluster, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera and a 12-speaker Sony audio system.

Note that all-wheel drive is an extra-cost option on base, XLT and Limited trims, while the 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine is a $995 option on all front-wheel-drive Explorer models.

The all-wheel-drive-only Sport ($43,995) comes standard with the exclusive twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6, and it also features unique 20-in wheels, a blacked-out exterior styling treatment, a sport-tuned suspension and sport front seats.

Notable options include dual sunroofs, adaptive cruise control, a navigation system and a rear-seat entertainment system.

Second-row seating comfort is quite good in the Explorer, but it's best to save the cramped third-row seat for kids (the related Ford Flex crossover is superior in this regard). Cargo capacity is a bit disappointing for such a large vehicle, maxing out at 80.7 cu ft. with the rear seats collapsed.

Safety

The 2015 Ford Explorer is equipped with airbags all around, including front, front-side impact, front-knee and side-curtain airbags covering all three rows. Optional are inflatable rear-seat outboard seat belts to cushion occupants from injury in an accident, which are compatible with child safety seats.

Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, trailer sway control and Hill Start Assist, which keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when stopped on a steep incline.

The 2015 Explorer received a perfect 5-star rating in government crash tests, including five stars for both front and side impacts. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Explorer the highest possible score of Good in almost every category, though a Marginal (second-worst) score was issued in the small-overlap front-impact test.

Behind the Wheel

By 3-row crossover standards, the Explorer feels solid and connected to the road. Steering is firm and accurate, and the vehicle handles curves reasonably well. From the driver's seat, however, the Explorer feels even larger than it is. That's due in part to the narrow side glass and the thick front and rear pillars, which impede visibility. You'll love the smooth, quiet ride, though.

The standard V6 engine has no problem moving the Explorer, with good midrange power and a transmission that responds with reasonable promptness when more power is demanded. Fuel economy can be disappointing, however. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost rectifies the fuel-economy problem, but it's ultimately rather sluggish for this class, even though its healthy torque output masks this in normal driving. Naturally, our favorite is the Sport's 365-hp twin-turbo V6, but its fuel economy is the worst of the three, and not everyone wants to spend upwards of $45,000 on a family vehicle.

Other Cars to Consider

2015 Chevrolet Traverse -- The Traverse has more front legroom and more cargo space behind its third-row seat, but its infotainment options are not as robust.

2015 Dodge Durango -- The Durango offers roughly the same interior space as the Explorer, along with an awesome optional V8 and more towing capacity.

2015 Hyundai Santa Fe -- The 3-row Santa Fe offers head-turning style along with competitive space and features for less coin.

Used Toyota Land Cruiser -- This recommendation may seem like it's out of left field, but the 3-row, V8-powered Land Cruiser delivers world-class off-road ability and a seriously luxurious interior, plus peerless reliability that inspires confidence.

AutoTrader's Advice

The XLT trim offers the best value of the bunch. We recommend the fuel-efficient 4-cylinder EcoBoost if you don't need all-wheel drive. If you do, the standard V6 will get the job done.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Ford Explorer: New Car Review - Autotrader