The roomy Ford Explorer utility vehicle is back for its second model year since a complete redesign, and it sees few changes other than the addition of a fuel-efficient new 4-cylinder engine to the lineup. The new 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder provides performance of a base-level V6 combined with the fuel efficiency of a four, Ford claims. <p><p>Also for 2012, the Explorer gets an expanded exterior color palette, including Ginger Ale Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic, Dark Blue Pearl Metallic, Cinnamon Metallic and Black.
The Explorer is offered in base, XLT and Limited models, and no matter which model you choose, you get three well-designed rows of seating and room for up to seven (you can also get buckets for the second row). You'll have no problem fitting adults in the back seat, and while the third row is kid-sized it's easier to fold than just about any other model--thanks to the simple, single-button power-folding system. Parents will also note that LATCH fasteners for child seats are included in the second-row outboard positions. And if you flip both the second and third rows forward, there's a cavernous (and well-shaped) 81 cubic feet of cargo space.
With the EcoBoost engine, fuel economy is about the best in this class of vehicle: 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway. There is one significant footnote to the EcoBoost engine, though: It's only available with front-wheel drive, so any shoppers needing the all-weather security of 4-wheel drive will need to step up to the V6. The larger engine isn't all that bad, though, with EPA ratings of up to 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.
The 4-wheel drive system in the Explorer is designed with the urban driving done by most Explorer owners, but it does include a Terrain Management system that smartly recalibrates the system for snow, sand or mud when needed. With 4-wheel drive, there's also Hill Descent Control, to help maintain composure on steep, slippery slopes.
Standard equipment on the Explorer is more extensive than you'll see in most mainstream-brand vehicles. Cruise control, a media hub system, four 12-volt powerpoints, capless fuel-filling and the MyKey control/monitoring feature are all standard on the base model, while optional or standard models on the upper XLT or Limited trims include dual-zone climate control; remote start; power-folding, heated side-view mirrors; reverse sensing; ambient lighting, adjustable pedals, a rearview camera system, push-button start and a 110-volt AC outlet.
Also of note is MyFord Touch, a touch-screen-based interface that combines a host of vehicle, information and entertainment functions in an interface that appears a bit like that of iPads or other tablet computers. The system works together with Ford's Sync interface to interact seamlessly--and with voice commands--with media players, smartphones and music on USB sticks.
All Explorers include both Roll Stability Control and Curve Control, sophisticated stability control systems. Safety Canopy side-curtain airbags also cover all three rows, and a SOS Post-Crash System helps alert authorities if the airbags deploy. Even more advanced, safety related tech features on the Explorer include adaptive cruise control with a collision warning system and brake support and a Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert; both are features that could lessen the impact of an accident or help avoid it entirely.