The 2018 Ford Explorer follows on from a strong 2017 model that was a top seller in its class. The Explorer large SUV crossover comes with a smooth ride, sleek design and a high-quality interior hosting cutting-edge technology. Driving more like a car than a truck (and a luxury car at that), this 7-seater crossover is not as roomy as a minivan — or even some slightly larger competitors from GM — but it’s undoubtedly among the best of its kind.
What’s New for 2018?
The nose and tail have received subtle styling tweaks. There’s been a slight reshuffle of equipment and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot (with connections for up to 10 devices) becomes available. See the 2018 Ford Explorer models for sale near you
What We Like
In general, the whole driving experience: The cabin is tranquil and upscale, and the ride is serene. In particular, there’s 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.
The entry-level engine for the first three trim levels is a 3.5-liter V6 developing 290 horsepower 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 city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. All-wheel-drive versions achieve 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.
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 2018 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.
Base ($32,935) comes with a decent list of standard equipment, including 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, LED lighting front and rear, rearview camera (with a washer), 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated/power-folding side mirrors, Bluetooth, USB ports, tilt-telescopic steering wheel and a 4.2-in display.
A new Safe and Smart package bundles together rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control with forward-collision mitigation.
XLT ($34,965) brings LED fog lights, rear parking sensors, upgraded brakes, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 6-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, 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 roof rack. The cabin gets dark gray leather front seats with suede seatback inserts, contrast stitching, door trim inserts and a few more cosmetic additions.
The XLT Technology package brings voice-activated navigation with real-time traffic updates, blind spot monitoring and a self-dimming driver’s-side mirror.
Limited ($43,035) has leather upholstery, 20-in wheels, hands-free power tailgate, front-facing camera (with a washer), 8-in touchscreen, power adjustment for the steering wheel and pedals, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated/ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, power-folding function for the third seating row, ambient cabin lighting, Wi-Fi, Sync 3 upgraded infotainment system, 110-volt outlet, navigation and an 8-in touchscreen.
Sport ($46,895) has 20-in wheels of a different design to the Limited version. It also has a sportier suspension tune and all-wheel drive as standard. Some of the Limited’s equipment is optional in the Sport, like the navigation system and power tailgate.
Platinum ($54,885) gets pretty much everything listed up to this point, along with a dual sunroof, adaptive cruise control, parking assistance for perpendicular/parallel spaces, rain-sensing wipers, higher-grade cabin materials, 12-speaker Sony audio plus 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.
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 the highest possible score of Good in almost every category, although 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, while 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 mid-range power and a transmission that responds promptly to the throttle pedal. The 2.3 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 81.7 cu ft.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Chevrolet Traverse — Has more front legroom and more cargo space, plus seating for eight. A fine package.
2018 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.
2018 Honda Pilot — A large and versatile interior provides seating for up to eight occupants. This is a quality vehicle in every way.
2018 Hyundai Santa Fe — Can tow up to 5,000 pounds, seats seven, equipment levels are high and has an excellent warranty.
2018 Mazda CX-9 — Just as capable as the Explorer in blurring the line between mainstream and luxury. And capable in plenty of other ways, as well.
2018 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.
An XLT with the Safe and Smart package is family friendly, both in terms of budget and overall protection.