Jalopnik knows that reviewing an SUV at the exact moment gas prices have drop-kicked ute sales off a cliff is slightly perverse. Granted, that s as good a description of our house style as you re going to get. More to the point, the recent forecourt trucktastrophe has created a buyer s market to shame American Idol s first-round judges (someone should). These days, a used Coca-Cola can and $100 a week will relocate many a box-fresh SUV onto one's own driveway. To that end, the new Ford Explorer will do very nicely, thank you very much.
As well it should. The Blue Oval Boys directed their boffins to improve every major aspect of their best-selling SUV: build quality, ride, handing, powertrain, emissions, interior, safety; the works. In fact, the only bits of Ford s former cash cow that didn't receive a major upgrade were the SUV s generic exterior and its fuel consumption.
Oops. While the new Explorer gets 10% better mileage than the previous gen, you re still looking at an EPA rating of 14 city, 20 highway. Unless you drive like the gas pedal s resting on a wasp s nest — and even if you do — your actual mileage will vary significantly. In a distinctly downwards direction. Not to put too fine a point on it, a fill-up with our local petroleum-based rotgut vacuumed $50 out of our beleaguered AMEX.
On the positive side, the new Explorer is a veritable Swiss Army Knife of a vehicle that feels more like a luxury car than a heavily modified truck. The moment you press the Explorer's go-pedal, it's immediately apparent that America's favorite boxy behemoth is more refined than any of those large-eared louts born into the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and many a Merc besides. The SUV's six-speed slushbox (a class first) and newly tri-valved 4.6-liter SOHC V8 are an ideal double act, delivering the smoothest shove we ve experienced outside of a sexual encounter.
Thanks to a dramatically stiffer chassis and an NVH-tuned independent suspension, the Explorer rides as smoothly as it goes. Yes, you get the usual surfing problem over an extended section of broken pavement, but the SUV s tube-through-tube frame handles less cataclysmic concrete with a perfect blend of isolation and control. Add Volvo s no-tippy safety nanny, and the only rolling you ll be doing in this beast involves extremely thin, highly-taxed paper.
The Explorer s brakes are elephantine in strength and Irish setter in feel. The steering is predictably light, with enough turns from lock-to-lock to challenge a professional plate spinner. But it's a minor quibble when you consider the fact that you're helming a genuine seven-seater that can also scrabble around in the dirt and take your boat for a bath. In short, the Explorer's engineers have done a truly remarkable job defending and extending the ute's well-loved virtues.
Unfortunately, the Explorer s fuelish ways make Ford s accomplishment a Pyrrhic victory. Of course, what was bad for Epirus was good for Rome. If you ve got an Emperor s disdain for political correctness and treasury-related matter, the Ford Explorer is a magnificent vehicle at an incredible price. Well, at least initially [by Robert Farago]