Last Update July 8th, 2016
2017 Ford Explorer Buying Advice
This is the best crossover for you if you appreciate a modern take on classic squared-off styling — and the interior volume that comes with it. It’s a good choice, too, for its rewarding road manners, plethora of features, smart pricing, and sound powertrains. On the downside, Explorer lacks automatic emergency braking, which keeps it from earning top ratings for occupant protection in frontal collisions. That hasn’t dented sales, however: this seven-seater remains America’s best-selling midsize SUV. For 2017, Sync 3 is aboard to upgrade the infotainment interface, there’s an attractive new Sport Appearance package, and Ford halves the price of the turbo-four-cylinder-engine option.
Check out our 2018 Ford Explorer Preview for the latest info
Should you buy a 2017 model or wait for the ‘18?
Buy the 2017 to get the styling and features that’ll see this crossover through to its next full redesign, likely for model-year 2019 or ’20. The ’18 will cost more yet isn’t apt to change in any way worth waiting for. And it’ll likely repeat 2017’s five-model lineup: base (about 10 percent of sales), XLT (45 percent), Limited (20 percent) Sport (15 percent) and Platinum (10 percent). Base, XLT, and Limited are available with a V-6 engine or the turbo four-cylinder, and with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). The performance-tuned Sport and luxury-laden Platinum have Ford’s twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 and come only with AWD.
Styling, most Explorer owners tell Ford, was the No. 1 factor in their purchase decision. Credit a canny blend of traditional upright-SUV shapes and cutting-edge crossover streamlining. A model-year 2016 freshening honed the look, with a new hood, grille, and headlamps, plus a re-contoured tail. Some visual differentiators again mark the ’17 models. Base versions, for example, have black instead of body-colored door handles. Uplevel models add fog lamps, LED daytime running lamps, turn-signal mirrors, dual chrome exhaust tips, and grille and fascia brightwork. Added to the lineup for model-year 2016, the Platinum has its own chrome-accented grille and trim. Sport versions go with the trendy black and shadowed theme and, like the Platinum, have 20-inch alloy wheels versus the other models’ 18-inch alloys. The 20s are an XLT and Limited option, at $1,195, in combination with other packages.
XLTs can get that Sport-model look via 2017’s main styling addition, the XLT Sport Appearance Package. A $1,295 option, it includes the dark exterior accents, including black body-side molding and roof rack, and the 20-inch Magnetic Gray wheels. Interior enhancements include the Sport’s extra-bolstered dark gray front seats with leather and suede inserts. Leather upholstery for the XLT is otherwise part of the 202A option) and is standard on Limited, Sport, and Platinum. Ford says the Platinum has the highest quality interior it’s ever offered, with aluminum and real wood trim and “Nirvana” leather with quilted inserts and actual stitching. All versions come with second- and third-row bench seats for seven-passenger capacity. Two second-row buckets are a $695 option on all but the Base model, reducing capacity to six. If you go this way, we recommend spending another $150 for the second-row center console. It blocks walk-though access to the third row but provides needed storage space and, crucially, an inboard armrest, which the buckets lack.
Powertrains are unchanged but Ford is enticing buyers to choose the turbo four-cylinder over the base V-6 by adjusting the four’s price and availability. The automaker’s motivation might well be the four’s higher EPA fuel-economy ratings and their benefit to its federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. The EcoBoost 2.3-liter was a $995 option on the 2016 Base, XLT, and Limited models in place of their standard, naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6. For ’17, it costs just $495 on Base and XLT is a no-cost option on Limited. It returns with 280 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The V-6 remains at 290 and 255, respectively. A twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 with 365 horses and 350 pound-feet of torque is exclusive to the Premium and Sport. The latter bolsters its performance credentials with a tauter, handling-tuned suspension.
The sole transmission remains a six-speed automatic augmented on every model with steering-wheel paddle shifters. Explorer isn’t really an off-roader but its AWD system is nonetheless more adept than most in the class. It has a terrain-management system with a console knob that locks in powertrain and braking algorithms to maximize traction for grass, gravel, sand, mud, and snowy surfaces. Overall, this is a crossover with surprisingly satisfying road manners. Acceleration with the base V-6 is perfectly adequate, the turbo four is a gutsy step up in throttle response, and the EcoBoost V-6 has real muscle. Around town or on the open road, handling is good on every model. The 20-inch tires do enhance steering response and grip. Only on the Sport, with its too-firm suspension, do they diminish the otherwise laudable ride quality.
Beyond Sync 3 and the Sport Appearance Package, there’s little new of note following the broad 2016 update. That freshening added such overdue items as front and rear 180-degree camera systems (with lens washers), though not automatic braking. That said, the ’17 Explorer returns with most features expected of a midsize crossover in this price range. Sync 3 replaces trouble-prone, Microsoft-based MyFord Touch as optional on the XLT and standard on Limited, Sport, and Platinum. It utilizes Blackberry-related software and is far easier to use, more consistent, and boasts more advanced features. Ford’s basic and reliable Sync hands-free interface is standard on Base and XLT models.
Returning standard features for the Base Explorer include second- and third-row split folding bench seats, a manual tilt/telescope steering column, a rearview camera with washer, and steering-wheel audio and cruise controls. The XLT’s standard-equipment list builds on that with keyless entry with pushbutton start, rear-obstacle detection, upgraded cloth upholstery, and satellite radio. The XLT is also where major options packages kick in (see below).
Step up to the Limited and you get a standard navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control and rear auxiliary climate controls, a power titl/telescope heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats, and power-folding third row. Also included is remote engine start, ambient lighting, and a hands-free power liftgate that opens with a wave of a foot beneath the bumper. Among the Sport’s standard features is unique perforated leather with red-accent stitching. The Platinum has a unique 500-watt Sony audio system and a dual-panel moonroof.
Starting from the low-$30,000s through the mid-$40,000s, most Explorer models are priced on par with direct rivals. The $46,150 Sport presses the upper range of the segment and the Platinum occupies its very top. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which is $945 on the ’17 Explorer.) The Base model is priced from $32,105 with front-wheel drive and from $34,225 with AWD; its main factory option is the turbo four-cylinder engine. Accounting for nearly half of Explorer sales, the XLT affords buyers a range of option packages that can drive its sticker to $42,535 — from a base of $34,570 with front-drive and $36,720 with AWD. Prominent among those options is the aforementioned Equipment Group 202A. Priced at $4,680, it includes leather upholstery, Sync 3, dual-zone climate control, remote engine start, heated steering wheel, power passenger seat, and the foot-activated liftgate, among other features. Group 201A ($2,110) includes most of that, sans the leather.
The Limited starts at $42,470 with front-drive and at $44,620 with AWD. A popular addition to its broad list of standard features is a $3,000 equipment group that includes a system that identifies a parallel parking space and automatically pulls the Explorer into – and out of – it. It also includes rain sensing windshield wipers, blind-spot warning with automatic steering correction should you wander from your traffic lane, and inflatable rear outboard safety belts designed to cushion the body in a crash. These safety adjuncts are standard on the Platinum and available on XLT and Sport, priced from $650 and also included in various options packages.
The 2017 Explorer Sport is priced at $46,150. It’s main option package is Equipment Group 401A ($2,965), which includes the safety adjuncts, plus power adjustable pedals, ambient lighting, power title/telescope steering wheel, power folding mirrors, and other amenities. Fully equipped with all the above, plus its exclusive luxury features, the Platinum is priced at $54,180. An onboard navigation system is standard on Limited and Platinum and a $795 extra on XLT and Sport models fitted with Sync 3.
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2017 Explorer weren’t released in time for this review, but they should mirror the 2016 ratings. That would keep Explorers with the base V-6 slightly below the class fuel-economy average and those with the EcoBoost four-cylinder slightly ahead of rivals with similar power. In this segemen, only the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee with Chrysler’s Hemi V-8 have power similar to that of Explorers with the twin-turbo V-6, and the Ford’s ratings beat them.
For the base V-6, Explorer’s ’16 EPA ratings were 17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined with front-drive and 16/23/19 mpg with AWD. For the turbo four-cylinder they were 19/28/22 with front-drive and 18/26/21 with AWD. With its standard AWD, the twin-turbo V-6 rated 16/22/18.
What’s next for the Explorer?
Frontal-collision-mitigating automatic braking ought to head the list. Most top rivals offer it, as do many less expensive cars and crossovers. Its absence here costs Explorer top ratings from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, although Explorer does earn the maximum five stars in the less-stringent government crash tests. There’s a chance Ford could add automatic braking to the 2017 model (this review was compiled before full details on the ’17 lineup had been released). It’ll certainly be available, and probably standard, on the next generation Explorer. That crossover will shed weight in the name of fuel economy but probably won’t change much in size and will again have three rows of seats. Styling will be a more aerodynamic evolution of the model-year 2016 facelift. Powertrains will rely primarily on turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines and incorporate an automatic transmission with eight or more gears.
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