What a difference a decade makes. Once the poster child of the SUV segment (rear- or all-wheel drive, body-on-frame construction, V-6 or V-8 engine), the new Explorer, which went on sale less than a year ago, is now a front-wheel-drive, four- or six-cylinder, unibody crossover. It’s a dramatic departure from the old Explorer, but Ford needed to do something in the face of the old model’s bleeding sales. The gamble appears to have paid off, with year-to-date sales more than double those of 2010. The reinvented Explorer features improved fuel economy, higher-quality materials, and state-of-the-art technology. But it does have some shortcomings. Visibility from the driver’s seat is not good due to the high beltline and the thick A-pillars. The ride and handling are improvements over the old Explorer, but driving this crossover is in general a ho-hum affair. Buyers can opt for either a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder or a 3.5-liter V-6, both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is available with the V-6. Options include MyFord Touch — an eight-inch touch screen that integrates navigation, audio, climate, and phone functions — which might be popular with tech-savvy buyers but comes with a huge learning curve. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, parallel-parking assist, and a power-folding third row are other popular options. Ford hopes this makeover will ensure the long-term survival of the Explorer, but it may end up cannibalizing sales from its already crossover-heavy lineup.

Drive: Front-wheel, 4-wheel
Trim Levels: Explorer, XLT, Limited
Body Style: SUV/crossover, 6- or 7-passenger
Engines: 2.0L turbo I-4, 240 hp, 270 lb-ft
3.5L V-6, 290 hp, 255 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Passenger Volume: 151.7 cu ft
Capacities: Towing 5000 lb; cargo (behind
third/middle/front seats) 21.0/43.8/80.7 cu ft

An all-new Ford Explorer was introduced less than a year ago, so changes for 2012 are minimal. BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) with cross-traffic alert is now packaged with the optional rear inflatable seatbelts. Two different levels of the Sync entertainment system are now available, and there are four new colors: ginger ale metallic, dark blue pearl metallic, cinnamon metallic, and black.

Front, side, and side curtain air bags are standard; rear inflatable seatbelts for the outboard seating positions are available on the XLT and the Limited. AdvanceTrac with stability control and curve control is standard, as are tire-pressure monitoring and ABS. Adaptive cruise control with collision warning, BLIS blind-spot monitoring, and SOS Post-Crash Alert are optional.

All: 17-20 mpg city/23-28 mpg highway

  • Fuel efficient for a crossover
  • Available all-wheel drive
  • Lots of safety and high tech
  • No all-wheel drive with I-4
  • Poor outward visibility
  • MyFord Touch difficult to use

The all-American SUV has gotten a makeover.

  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Honda Pilot
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Toyota Highlander

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