Ford Explorer

Explorer retains appeal for three plus decades running

Roseville, Calif.- Americans became enamored with the new rough and tumble sport utility vehicle. And none was more popular than the Ford Explorer. Introduced in 1990, Ford sold 159,626 that first year and by 1994 it was the ninth best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

In a five-year period from 1998 to 2002, the Explorer was clearly the king of SUVs with incredible sales between 415,921 and 445,157 in 2000, its best sales year to date.

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Part of the sixth Explorer generation introduced for 2020, the 2021 Ford Explorer still retains its mass appeal. The popular Explorer will again surpass the 200,000 sales mark this year – the 22nd time in 32 years.

Introduced as a truck-based SUV, the standard Explorer is now on a rear-wheel-drive platform with all-wheel drive an option at $1,920.

Proponents of rear-wheel-drive believe the vehicle is better balanced and think the acceleration is more dynamic because of the weight shift when accelerating through turns and from a stop.

Models & Performance

Ford has definitely equipped the latest Explorer with some options, creating six trim models: base, XLT, Limited, ST, King Ranch, Platinum. There’s also an Explorer hybrid (that won’t be reviewed here).

One of the complaints against the latest Explorer is cost. While no one is balking at the base price of $33,000, the sticker price for upper trim levels climbs quite a bit. The King Ranch driven here with a few additional options was just over $58,000.

Even though it’s not much of a bargain, the Explorer remains an admired SUV. Through the years, the Explorer has retained its rugged exterior, gets good acceleration, handles well, has three rows, and enough technology to hang with more advanced SUVs.

The Explorer base, XLT and Limited models all come with a turbocharged engine, a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder that generates 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a 10-speed transmission, it travels 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds and has fairly good fuel economy (27-29 mpg).

The upper-level models have a more robust engine, a 3.0-liter, V-6 with either 365 or 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. With 400 horsepower, the V6 will go about a second faster than the turbo model and the fuel economy (24-27) is practically equal. The Explorer can tow up to 5,600 pounds.


  • Performance: 2.3-liter, four-cylinder, 300 horsepower; 3.0-liter, V-6, 365 or 400 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 27-29 mpg; 24-27 mpg
  • Price estimate: $33,100 to $54,800
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; Drivetrain: 5 years/60,000 miles; Roadside A little over three decades ago the introduction of the Ford Explorer was a dynamic moment in the U.S. auto industry.

Safety & Interior

As mentioned, the Explorer provides a solid ride, offering good balance and handling in most driving situations. It feels on the light side for a three-row SUV that can transport either six or seven passengers.

Standard safety driving features include lane keeping assistance, cross-traffic and blind-spot monitoring, auto emergency braking, and automatic high beams.

There is both good and bad with the Explorer interior. It has three rows, yet sitting in that third one won’t be comfortable for any adult. Note that it’s now easier to enter and exit – the push of a button gets the second row out of the way for people entering or departing the back row.

The front seat is very roomy and comfortable, while the second row’s captain chairs provide a good resting place on long trips.

Another knock on the Explorer is the use of too much interior plastic surfaces. However, we do like the attractive 8-inch touchscreen that is intuitive and responsive. Cargo area is on the small side, but fold both rows down to the floor and it expands to 87.8 cubic feet.

Considering its sales history, one might refer to the Explorer as the king of SUVs. Overall, the 2021 Ford Explorer will only enhance the brand’s reputation while maintaining a steady stream of buyers.

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