2018 Ford Explorer Rating Breakdown
2018 ford explorer
EPA est City/Hwy
Starting at
3.5L Flex
290 hp

Starting at



3.5L Flex


290 hp





The Car Connection Expert Review
Marty Padgett

Marty Padgett

Editorial Director

  • The EPA’s optimistic with those turbo ratings
  • Platinum content, platinum prices
  • Second-row seat needs padding, less tilt
  • Third-row seat needs more of everything
ford explorer 2018

We’ve seen this look before—for eight model years, to be precise—but the Ford Explorer still has a fundamental appeal.

With only the most minor of visual changes in the 2018 model year, the Ford Explorer still sells the same shape it has since the 2011 model year. It’s long on function, short on freshness. We give it an extra point for its cabin, which raises its score above average to a 6. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Explorer's visual approach hasn’t changed for most of this decade. It wears an agreeable collection of crisp corners, clean edges, and nifty textures on its grille and side cladding. The shape only hints at the nameplate’s SUV roots; any lower to the ground, and it would look more like Ford’s old Freestyle wagon from the 1990s. Platinum models get LED lighting and distinctive trim that aren't wholly out of place for the luxe Explorer, and new exhausts and LED headlights are now standard on top versions.

Early Explorers had miserable, plasticky interiors, but got better as the SUV groomed itself and took itself upmarket. The current Explorer makes no attempt to nod to the past—and that's just fine. The latest cabin has tailored good looks like its Durango and Grand Cherokee rivals, with a slightly more contemporary feel.

We’ve seen this look before—for eight model years, to be precise—but the Ford Explorer still has a fundamental appeal.

The 2018 Ford Explorer fires up its turbos in its most interesting forms, but even the base V-6 acquits itself well.

Ford fits a range of engines to the Explorer SUV, all teamed with a 6-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive, and an independent suspension.

It’s no longer a rough-and-tumble utility vehicle. Instead, the Explorer has morphed into a surprisingly entertaining family vehicle with a smidge of off-pavement talent.

We think it’s a 7 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The most common Explorer engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. That’s more power than Ford used to extract from its V-8 Explorer. It accelerates strongly, and a sport mode holds the 6-speed’s gears longer, and hastens its shifts. The combination works well on interstates, but gets caught flat-footed on interesting roads where you’ll have to manhandle the shift lever and mash the gas pedal to get it to respond in a meaningful way. There’s just not much torque at low engine speeds, and the transmission’s not programmed to snap off shifts with sport-sedan swiftness.

A 2.3-liter turbo-4 shows up on some midrange Explorers. It’s also found in the Lincoln lineup. Here it turns in 280 hp and 310 lb-ft, and with its much lower torque peak, it can tow up to 3,000 pounds. It’s worth the extra money over the base engine, from the grunty low-end power it delivers, to the quicker acceleration and responses it offers, even to the amplified engine noise Ford pumps into the cabin. It obliterates the laggy shifting of the V-6, even when saddled with the extra weight of all-wheel drive.

The top Explorer sports a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6, now rated at 365 hp and 350 lb-ft, sold only with all-wheel drive. It’s no SRT rival, but the ample power hustles this Explorer with pleasant restraint.

Every Explorer has a set of front struts and a multi-link rear suspension. Sport models have quicker steering and stiffer suspension settings, as well as more bracing and thicker stabilizer bars. The Explorer rides smoothly in most instances, even with the largest Sport wheels and tires, and in all models its steering responds quickly to inputs big and small.

On the traction front, the Explorer delivers peak towing of a middling 5,000 pounds, and its all-wheel-drive option has no true low gear ratio. It still can slosh through mud and ruts on its all-season tires, so long as the road ahead doesn’t require terrain maps and a local guide.

The centerpiece to the system is a multi-traction drive system that spins from Normal to Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Snow modes, tailoring power and braking to suit the conditions. In esoteric instances, those electronics can't quite match a really well-trained off-road driver, since they require a little slip in the system to start working. For the remaining 95 percent of us, it's welcome relief to worry less about descending a hill with brake and engine modulation instead of simply flicking a switch.

The 2018 Ford Explorer fires up its turbos in its most interesting forms, but even the base V-6 acquits itself well.

The versatile Ford Explorer has room to spare, but needs better rear seats.

Today’s Explorer can seat seven people in its three rows, which puts it in the crosshairs of SUVs like the Buick Enclave and Honda Pilot. It’s not as spacious, and its second and third rows could use some attention.

We give it a 7 for comfort and utility. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Explorer is 198.3 inches long, and rides on a 112.8-inch wheelbase. That’s plenty of room for front-seat passengers to have ample space. Their seats are comfortable and supportive, with soft cushions and just enough side bolstering to grip passengers for long road trips—and that’s before Ford applies power adjustment, heating, and ventilation.

The second-row bench needs better placement and padding. The bottom cushion tips down at its leading edge, it’s short, and it’s thin on the soft stuff that makes for pleasant road trips. The space is fine—three passengers will fit across—but most shoppers will do better by opting into the second-row captain’s chairs found on the options list.

In the rearmost row, Ford reserves seats for small kids, in-laws, and those held in general disfavor. There’s not much space at all back there, and the seat barely mounts above the floor. It’s not easy to get to the third row either. The second-row seats flip and fold out of the way, but there’s not much space between those seats and the door frame.

The third-row seat folds down and out of the way, with power assist in some configurations. With both back rows of seats out of the way, the Explorer turns into a hard-sided tote with more than 81 cubic feet of cargo space, all lined with tough carpeting, with a nearly flat load floor. Behind the third row, the Explorer’s 21 cubic feet will hold a few roll-aboard bags.

Ford revamped the Explorer’s interior recently, and swapped out some touch-sensitive controls for real buttons and knobs. It also added more damping and sound deadening. The Explorer’s tightly composed interior looks well-assembled and handsome, if not overtly plush—at least, until you spend into the Platinum trim level.

The versatile Ford Explorer has room to spare, but needs better rear seats.

The IIHS thinks less of the Ford Explorer than the NHTSA does.

In its most recent federal crash tests, the Ford Explorer performed quite well. The insurance industry begs to differ.

We give it a 7 out of 10 for safety, given those mixed scores and the lack of some advanced safety technology. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The NHTSA says the Explorer merits a five-star overall rating. It earns the same in nearly every test, save for a four-star score in rollover resistance.

The IIHS has qualms. It rates the Explorer “Good” in most tests, but dubs its small-overlap impact protection as just “Marginal.”

A rearview camera comes with every Explorer. Ford now makes forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking available on almost every model.

The Explorer provides its driver a very good view of the road ahead. To the rear, thick roof pillars block some of the view, but the Explorer offers blind-spot monitors in a bundle with rear-seat inflatable belts.

For light towing, the Explorer has electronic aids that keep it and its trailer stable. The Explorer has a special "Curve Control" feature for its stability control, which adapts throttle and brake to upcoming corners; trailer-sway control also helps make maximum use of its 5,000-pound towing capacity.

The IIHS thinks less of the Ford Explorer than the NHTSA does.

NHTSA 5-Star Safety Rating

2018 Ford Explorer Models

Overall Rating


Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating: (5/5)
Overall Side Crash Rating: (5/5)
Overall Side Barrier Rating: Not Rated
NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating: (4/5)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Ratings

2018 Ford Explorer Models

Side Impact Test Good
Roof Strength Test Good
Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint Not Tested
IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results Marginal
IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results Good

Ford Explorer prices soar in top Platinum models; Sport editions get the most interesting hardware.

Ford ladles on lots of features with every Explorer, and packages of gear boost its luxury credentials and its price.

We’re still not sure how we feel about a $53,000 Explorer, but can’t argue with its ample equipment. The Explorer lineup gets an 8 here, for standard and optional gear, and for the lush trim in high-end versions. We take one back for its small base infotainment system. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Explorer price track starts at more than $30,000. At that point in the spectrum, the Explorer has cloth seats, cruise control, power features, steering-wheel audio and phone controls, and an AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers, Bluetooth streaming, and a 4.2-inch touchscreen.

The Explorer XLT adds 18-inch wheels, satellite radio, keyless ignition, and a 10-way power driver's seat. On that, the Sport Appearance pack piles on 20-inch wheels, a black roof rack, gray leather seats with suede and accent stitching, and a gray grille.

The Explorer Limited comes with 20-inch wheels, ambient lighting, leather, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, and a power-fold third-row seat. Audio comes via a 12-speaker Sony system.

With the Explorer Sport, Ford vectors off in a surprisingly satisfying performance direction. The Sport has a twin-turbo V-6, all-wheel drive, 20-inch wheels and tires, a sport suspension, and some black exterior trim.

More traditional luxury models wear a Platinum tag and get adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings, a dual-pane moonroof, leather, woodgrain trim, automatic park assist, and a heated steering wheel, as well as a price tag of more than $53,000.

Ford now fits its latest Sync 3 infotainment system to the Explorer. It’s slick, has a cleaner interface, and responds more quickly than the former MyFord Touch unit. It also offers an in-car data connection with 4G LTE and the ability to connect 10 devices.

Ford Explorer prices soar in top Platinum models; Sport editions get the most interesting hardware.

With its new-ish turbo-4, the Ford Explorer earns some solid EPA kudos.

The three-row Ford Explorer SUV can earn good EPA fuel economy ratings for its size, so long as you select one of its three powertrains.

We rate it a 5 for gas mileage, based on the numbers for its most popular engine. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Entry-level Explorers have a 3.5-liter V-6 and a 6-speed automatic. The EPA scores this combination at 17 mpg city, 24 highway, 20 combined. The numbers fall by 1 mpg in each category when all-wheel drive is added.

The Explorer offers a 2.3-liter turbo-4 in front- and all-wheel drive. The latter scores rather impressive ratings of 19/27/22 mpg, and all-wheel-drive versions aren’t far behind at 18/25/21 mpg.

A turbo V-6 powers the most engaging Explorers, but it’s no fun at the pump. The EPA pegs it at 16/22/18 mpg.

With its new-ish turbo-4, the Ford Explorer earns some solid EPA kudos.

Fuel Economy Information

Ratings Based on 6 cyl, 3.5 L, 6-Speed Shiftable Automatic



7.1 gals/100 miles





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