The 2018 Ford Explorer has pulled off a graceful transition from clumsy off-roader to genteel family wagon.
In a lineup of cars and trucks that includes crazy uncle Shelby and cousin Raptor and a litter of baby RSs and STs, the 2018 Ford Explorer takes on the role of mom. Go ahead and have fun, it’s happy to do the shopping and the carpool, no matter what the weather holds. Someone has to do the chores around here, you know.
With three rows of seats, and ample choice in engines, the Explorer tackles its role with gusto. It can get mildly and entertainingly distracted with Sport tuning and high-end audio and fancy leather chairs. Sometimes it drinks too much.
We love the Explorer with all its faults, even though we don’t show it much in an overall score of 6.8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Seen in context as a sleek family wagon, the 2018 Ford Explorer still looks modern enough, eight years into its extended life cycle. It’s blessedly pared of fake SUV aggression and overly soft and eggy surfaces. The details show how Ford mastered the Land Rover design language before it sold it off: the Explorer’s mesh grilles and clean cutlines still bear a striking resemblance to Discoverys old and new. Inside, the note is clean and tidy, with more lavish touches applied at the $50,000 price barrier. We welcome the reinstated knobs and buttons that Ford brought back in recent model years.
Base Explorers rely on a solid 290-horsepower V-6 and a 6-speed automatic. The combo fares well in ordinary driving, less well when the road gets interesting, and the transmission gets lazy. Turbo-4 Explorers engage more energetically with the world around them, thanks to a low torque peak and paddle controls for the transmission. Twin-turbo V-6 Explorers don’t blow the road off its bed like the Jeep SRT, but substantial passing power is available just a few inches into the gas pedal travel. All Explorers have quick steering, well-damped ride quality, and optional all-wheel drive. The most rugged models can tow 5,000 pounds, and come with a traction-control system with driving modes that handle moderate departures from pavement as well as they can, on all-season tires.
The Explorer’s age reveals itself in its packaging. The floor is high, the second- and third-row seats aren’t well-shaped. Cargo space is fine, especially with those rear rows folded out of the way.
The Explorer also lets itself down with a “Marginal” crash-test score from the IIHS. A rearview camera comes standard, and Ford now offers forward-collision warnings on most models.
Every Explorer comes with power features, Bluetooth, and touchscreen audio. The most expensive versions, at more than $50,000, get 20-inch wheels, Sony audio, navigation, a power-folding third-row seat, and ventilated leather front seats. The best values lie at the XLT trim level, so long as you opt for the newly available safety gear.