When Ford decided to reinvent its venerable truck-based Explorer SUV as a car-derived crossover for 2011, no one was particularly surprised. The old Explorer was a family vehicle with a family-unfriendly design; the new Explorer addressed this with its roomier interior, smoother ride, and significantly improved fuel economy. But there’s a big surprise in store for 2012. Apparently unsatisfied with the standard 3.5-liter V-6’s 25 percent fuel-economy improvement over the previous V-6, Ford has decided to offer a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in front-wheel-drive Explorers.
Let’s put this in perspective. We asked ourselves if there’s ever—EVER—been such a diminutive engine in a 4,500-pound-plus vehicle. “Probably not,” was our considered reply. Granted, Ford’s four-cylinder “EcoBoost” motor is rated at 240 horsepower and a robust 270 pound-feet of torque, but still—a boosted 2.0-liter four is something we associate with sport compacts, not hulking three-row people-movers.
So how’s it work? Pretty well, actually. Most remarkable is the leap in fuel economy: whereas the front-wheel-drive Explorer V-6 gets 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, the Explorer EcoBoost cranks it up to 20 mpg city and a robust 28 mpg highway. But the turbocharged Explorer also does a decent job of getting out of its own way. The only catch is that Ford actually charges $995 more for the four, so be prepared to pay extra for the privilege of driving one of the most efficient large crossovers on the market.
What's to Like
The Explorer EcoBoost delivers excellent fuel economy for an imposing three-row crossover. The turbocharged engine does its work subtly, rarely giving hints about its true nature. Like other Explorers , the EcoBoost features a notably upscale cabin with generally high-quality materials. The seats are comfortable, and even full-sized adults can fit reasonably well in the third row. Thanks in large part to the Explorer’s car-derived platform, this is an exceptionally smooth-riding vehicle.
What's Not to Like
Shoppers in colder climes will be disappointed to learn that the EcoBoost engine is only available with front-wheel drive. The second-row seat lacks legroom when taller folks are sitting up front, and third-row access requires more effort than some parents might like. The optional MyFordTouch system requires more operator attention than it should. Finally, towing capacity is severely compromised with the EcoBoost engine and it costs an extra grand.
Despite its pleasantly compact steering wheel, the Explorer drives big—it may be based on...