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2017 Ford Explorer: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2017

The 2017 Ford Explorer full-size SUV crossover continues to be one of the most successful American vehicles. Compared to its rivals, the Explorer stands apart with its smooth ride, sleek design and a high-quality interior playing host to cutting-edge technology. Driving more like a car than a truck (and a luxury car at that), this 7-seat crossover is not as roomy as a minivan -- or even some slightly larger competitors from GM -- but it's undoubtedly one of the best in its class.

What's New for 2017?

A new Sport Appearance package is now available for the XLT trim. The unloved MyFord Touch infotainment interface is replaced by Ford's easier-to-like (and use) SYNC 3 setup.

What We Like

In general, the whole driving experience -- the cabin is tranquil and upscale, the ride is serene; in particular, useful fuel economy from the 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo 4-cylinder engine and impressive power from the 3.5-liter turbo V6; the terrain-responsive intelligent all-wheel-drive system is another plus.

What We Don't

Pretty snug back there in the third row -- it's best for kids; maximum towing ability of 5,000 pounds is merely adequate.

How Much?

$32,605 to $54,180

Fuel Economy

The entry-level engine for the first three trim levels is a 3.5-liter V6 developing 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. All Explorers have a 6-speed automatic transmission.

A base model with front-wheel drive is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to achieve 17 miles per gallon in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in combined driving. Subtract one mpg in each cycle for all-wheel drive.

The top two trims also use a 3.5-liter V6, but this unit is turbocharged to produce 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Consumption is quoted at 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined.

A 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder is optional in the first three trims. It balances a punchy 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque with an impressive 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined (front-drive) or 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined (all-wheel drive). This version can tow up to 3,000 pounds.

Standard Features & Options

The 2017 Ford Explorer is offered in base, XLT, Limited, Sport and Platinum trims. Many of the standard features in the higher levels are available as options in the lower trims.

The Base ($32,605) comes with a decent list of standard equipment, including 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting front and rear, a rearview camera (with a washer), Bluetooth, USB ports, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel and a 4.2-in display.

The XLT ($34,720) brings fog lights, heated side mirrors, rear parking sensors, upgraded brakes, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button start and satellite radio.

The XLT Sport Appearance Package includes 20-in alloy wheels, bespoke grille and mirror caps, plus black side cladding and a roof rack. The cabin gets dark-grey leather front seats with suede seatback inserts, contrast stitching, door trim inserts and a few more cosmetic additions.

The Limited ($42,620) has leather upholstery, 20-in wheels, a hands-free power tailgate, a front-facing camera (with a washer), an 8-in touchscreen, power adjustment for the steering wheel and pedals, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, a power-folding function for the third seating row, a 110-volt outlet, navigation and an 8-in touchscreen.

The Sport ($46,300) has 20-in wheels of a different design than the Limited version's. It also has a sportier suspension tune and standard all-wheel drive. Some of the Limited's equipment is optional in the Sport, like the navigation system and power tailgate.

The Platinum ($54,180) gets pretty much everything listed up to this point, along with a heated steering wheel, a dual sunroof, adaptive cruise control, parking assist for perpendicular/parallel spaces, higher-grade cabin materials, 12-speaker Sony audio and all the available safety features, like blind spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. The only options here are power-folding captain's chairs for the second row and a rear entertainment system.

Safety

The Explorer comes with front, front-side impact and front-knee airbags, plus side-curtain airbags covering all three rows. Inflatable seat belts are optional for the two outside rear seats -- they cushion occupants from injury in an accident and 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 an incline.

The Explorer has received a perfect 5-star rating in government crash tests, including top marks for both front and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also awarded the Explorer its highest possible score of Good in almost every category, although a Marginal (second-worst) score was issued in the small-overlap front-crash test.

Behind the Wheel

By 3-row crossover standards, the Explorer feels solid and connected to the road. Steering is firm and accurate, and curves are handled reasonably well. From the driver's seat, however, the vehicle feels larger than it really is. That's partly due to outward vision hindered by narrow side glass and thick pillars front and rear. It's a smooth and quiet ride, though.

The standard V6 engine has no problem pulling its weight, with good midrange power and a transmission that responds promptly to the throttle pedal. The 4-cylinder reconciles the twin demands of usable power and bearable fuel economy, while the Sport's 365-hp twin-turbo V6 is fun, but it's also the thirstiest. And not everyone wants to spend upwards of $45,000 on a family vehicle.

Cargo space with all seats in place is 21 cu ft. and 43.9 cu ft. with the third row folded. With the second and third rows down flat, that volume expands to 80.7 cu ft.

Other Cars to Consider

2017 Chevrolet Traverse -- Has more front legroom and more cargo space, plus seating for eight. A fine package.

2017 Dodge Durango -- It's virtually impossible to go wrong in this segment. The Durango is another serious contender, even offering the option of a V8.

2017 Honda Pilot -- A large and versatile interior provides seating for up to eight occupants. This is a quality vehicle in every way.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe -- Can tow up to 5,000 pounds, seats seven, equipment levels are high, and it has an excellent warranty.

2017 Mazda CX-9 -- Just as capable as the Explorer in blurring the line between mainstream and luxury. And in plenty of other ways as well.

2017 Toyota Highlander -- Useful, dependable and efficient family transportation with plenty of standard safety features. Go for the V6 engine, although there's also a hybrid version.

Used Audi Q7 -- Big and beautiful inside and out. The second generation debuted for 2017, so we're looking at first-generation versions here.

Autotrader's Advice

It all depends on budget. The Sport version is a great all-rounder and still comfortable. The XLT offers the best value. The fuel-efficient turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is worth considering in any of the lower trims.

Find a Ford Explorer for sale

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Used 2017 Ford Explorer 4WD XLT
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Used 2017 Ford Explorer 4WD XLT
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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.
2017 Ford Explorer: New Car Review - Autotrader