Forget everything you know about the Ford Explorer.
I say that because the only things this new Explorer shares with the old one is the brand, the name, and the fact that it seats 7 people. And to be completely honest with you, it's an entire revolution ahead (sorry Goodyear).
About a month ago, people gasped when the new Explorer was revealed... well, at least those who don't really look at auto websites and don't know what the new one looked like. To me, the Explorer looks very much like that stunning concept car; the strange thing is, that concept wasn't from Ford but from Land Rover LRX (now in production as the Evoque). By that alone, you can be sure it looks damn good.
Okay, so technically Land Rover was owned by Ford (who in turn had the Explorer America concept), but either way its great to see concept cars become drivable cars everyday. The front end of the new Explorer looks positively bulbous as a proper SUV should. Those headlights, that grille, the huge polished wheels and those blacked out A, B and D pillars all create a car that looks very stylish no matter what neighborhood you're in.
Opening that door, and again you're greeted by a truly cool interior. The steering wheel feels great, the leather seats are supple, and the controls have that distinct upper class feel. Over the old model, the cabin does feel a bit smaller, especially when it comes to 2nd row legroom. Ditto for 3rdrow legroom. Then again, however, the rear rows in most SUVs are really meant for smaller people, so if you're a group comprised of 7 going to the beach, you may need to negotiate a bit as to who gets to sit in front.
Looking around the cabin, there are some nifty storage compartments; all of them rather large. There's the large center box, decent glove box, cupholders and bottle holders galore. A pleasant surprise was the boot space even with the 3rdrow occupied. Again, if you're heading to the beach fully loaded, there's plenty of room for 7 people's luggage. What's cool is that the way you fold the 3rd row is actually a neat party trick to show your friends: push a button to fold, push another one to stow, and this can be done independently of the opposite seat.
And then, of course, there are the features. There are, of course the standard features like the power windows, steering, mirrors and central locks. And then there are the not-so-standard features like the huge panoramic moonroof, the power seats, the power tailgate and the aforementioned power folding 3rd row. They've powered everything, and because of the fact that this thing has so many power sockets, including a 110 volt household power outlet, they (almost) literally did.
The key is a transponder unit that detects if you're nearby so you can just start up the car with the push of a button. The climate control has pretty cool touch-sensitive buttons, but I do wish it had a “hold” function (like on your iPod) to prevent accidentally turning up the fan or shutting off the compressor should your hand wander.
I have to admit, this is one car that you shouldn't start up and drive away the moment you're given the keys... for the simple reason that it's very easy to get overwhelmed with the buttons at your disposal. There are buttons on the steering wheel, touch-sensitive buttons for the climate control and even the LCD at the center of the dash is also a touch screen affair. This thing is already putting my hand/eye coordination to the test, and I haven't even moved from the parking slot yet.
Starting with the gauge cluster, well, there's really only one “actual” gauge there: the speedometer. Flanking it are two LCD screens: the left for driving info like fuel economy, a digital tach and other vehicle settings, while the one on the right is for everything else like the entertainment system, climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and the like. Both LCDs are controlled by your thumb the directional hat buttons on the respective sides of the steering wheel (buttons on the left control the left LCD, buttons on the right control the other one). I have a feeling that someone from Sony's Playstation ergonomics department work this out, and again, that's a good thing as after about 5 minutes of messing about with it, I've already gotten the hang of the LCD controls.
At the center of the dash is Ford's very latest gadget: the MyFord Touch system. This system unifies all of the vehicles auxiliary functions like the Sony audio system, Bluetooth, climate and other settings into one touch screen unit. It sounds good, and indeed it is. Plugging your iPod into the USB is easy, and getting your phone set up is the same. There are even controls for changing what mood lighting color you want in the cabin.
There are no issues with the functionality, but I do have an issue with the response time (lag) between when I push/touch a button on the screen and when the function actually works. It can get a little frustrating on the go, even if you're the one sitting in the passenger seat. Same goes for actually being able to pick a playlist out of your iPod quickly. Mixed feelings about the MyFord Touch system then, though Ford (USA) has just released their update for the system in the States, so hopefully that makes its way here ASAP.
After getting everything set (finally), I pull out of the parking lot and onto the open road. Behind that handsome front end is a new 3.5 liter V6 from Ford. Floor the throttle and the heavy Explorer lunges forward willingly to the tune of 294 horsepower; which, when you think about it, nearly matches the 310 horsepower in the 5.4 liter V8 thanks to the use of modern valvetrain (DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder, Ti-VCT variable timing) compared to the V8's antiquated arrangement (SOHC, 3-valves per cylinder). The engine is also matched with a superbly smooth 6-speed automatic transmission which, oddly enough, has the +/- buttons for the manual mode on the side of the shift knob.
Still, 3.5 liters is still a relatively big engine, so in city limits be prepared for around 5 kilometers per liter in moderate traffic. On the highway its not that bad, as a light right foot can get you upwards of 10.3 kilometers per liter... even more in the right traffic conditions. What we really want, and what Explorer owners might need considering today's fuel prices, is the even newer 4-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engines that can still outperform the old Explorer V6 and still retain an EPA estimated 28 mpg, or 11.9 km/l.
Out of town and into the provinces, the Explorer is performing much better than expected... and by that, I mean in the handling department. It weighs over 2 metric tons, yet it confidently deals with the weight in the corners; relatively speaking of course. For the first time, the Explorer does not come from the classic SUV construction manual, using a unibody (read: crossover) framework over the classic body-on-frame of yesteryear's Explorers. Based on what I remember from driving the Explorer's 2 competitors, the comfortable Hyundai Veracruz and the light-on-its-feet Mazda CX-9, the Explorer strikes the middle ground, and again, that's a great place to be in.
Sadly, I didn't have the opportunity to try it out on a mild off road trail, but on dirt roads there's plenty of traction for the all-wheel drive system and the traction control system to play with. There's also a small wheel just aft of the shift knob for the terrain management system (like Land Rover's Terrain Response). There are settings for normal driving, sand, mud and even snow; good luck on finding a place in the tropics to use the last mode though.
Now comes the hard part: pricing the Explorer. The CX-9 is undoubtedly one of the best value cars in this class at PhP 2.362 million thanks to JPEPA. Same goes for the Mitsubishi Pajero's price at PhP 2.55M under the same trade agreement. The Veracruz is at the high end of the spectrum at PhP 2.808M. The Explorer looks better, feels better, feels of a higher caliber, is loaded with even more features than all of them and travels a whole ocean just to get into this country, so you would think PhP 2.9 million or even PhP 3 million are justifiable prices to ask for.
Well, it's PhP 2.35 million.
Game, set, match to the Ford Explorer.