It’s been many moons since we had the privilege of testing and reviewing a Ford Explorer. And since I once owned a 1999 Explorer Sport 2-door, this iconic SUV, that boasts all-time sales in the neighborhood of eight million, has come a long way in every respect.
The 2022 Explorer is offered in many flavors that include Explorer, XLT, ST-Line, Timberline, Limited ST, King Ranch, Platinum, LT Hybrid and Platinum Hybrid. We tested the 4WD Timberline that had off-road looks with its dark Carbonized grille, front red tow hooks and trim, and 18-inch high gloss black wheels w/laser-etched Timberline logo. Its off-road chops included front/rear skid plates, front/rear gas pressurized shocks, limited-slip differential and an 8.66-inch ground clearance that increased the ride height somewhat resulting in a modest 20-inch step-in into the cabin.
But that’s not all. Timberline has an approach angle of 23.5 degrees, a departure of 23.7 and a breakover of 18.9. All this for maneuvering in the sticks, grit and slop. Additionally, the test vehicle was painted a Forged Green Metallic that gave it a stealthy look.
On the inside, Timberline sported heated front and rear leather seats with cloth-type inserts complimented with orange stitching. A burly and heavily padded, heated, leather wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters and 8-inch infotainment screen fill out the operating controls. The display serves the gamut of a multi-view rearview camera, climate selections, apps including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Travel Link with local gas prices, traffic and weather reports, parking locations, sports info, ski conditions, satellite radio along with Ford Connect 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot connectivity and voice navigation.
Below the display are the HVAC switches that are easy to view and use.
But what immediately catches the eyes is the electronic rotary gear selector that many carmakers are now using in place of handle shifters.
Below the gear selector is a rotary drive mode switch for Normal, Slippery, Eco, Sport, Tow/Haul, Trail and Deep Snow/Sand modes.
The only item missing is a wireless phone charger, but there are receptacles for wired charging on the console.
An analog gauge cluster includes a large driver information display between the gauges. It shows alerts, functions and drive mode selections.
In the heated second row seats, that offer gobs of leg and head room, there’s so much shoulder room that Ford engineers fitted in a large console between the captain’s chairs. It offers a deep storage box and twin cup holders which limits seating to six. The seats themselves slide fore/aft five inches for easier ingress/egress into the third-row seats that are mainly for youngsters.
The cargo area has a 30-inch lift-over and with the third row upright, there’s 18.2 cubic feet of cargo space measuring 20 inches deep, 47 wide and 31 high. Flip the third row and space increases to 47.9 cubic feet for 50 inches of depth and when folding the second row there’s 87.8 cubic feet that opens up 81 inches of depth. That’s over 6.5 feet where a mountain bike would fit when taking off the front wheel and stowing it atop the bike.
Beneath the cargo floor is a 5-inch deep, full-width bin that has removable partitions for small item storage. It’s a nice touch to keep items or grocery bags separated.
There’s also one item that I had on my ’99 Explorer Sport that Ford still maintains today. Their Securecode keyless entry is a programmable four-digit button code on the drivers’ side door pillar. On hunting and fishing trips I’d stow my ‘99’s ignition key under the driver’s seat so it wouldn’t get lost. I’d rely on the door code to open the driver’s door.
Depending on the Explorer model, there are four powertrains offered. In the Timberline, it came with a 2.3-liter, turbocharged inline-4 that generates 300-hp and 310 lb/ft of torque. When coupled to the standard 10-speed automatic transmission, garnered EPA mileage estimates of 19 city, 23-highway mpg with engine auto start/stop technology. It had lots of gusto that made it feel like a V6 under the hood and that’s saying something considering Timberline’s 4,565 curb weight. So powered, Timberline carried an appreciable tow rating of 5,300 pounds.
Driving wise, Timberline with its 9-inch wide Bridgestone 18-inch tires, held the road with surety. There was negligible body roll in sharp turns. And it rode smoothly and relatively quietly even with the deep lug, off-road tires.
With a lengthy list of standard items such as Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 Assist, the only extra cost options were Cargo Management System ($165) and twin-panel sunroof ($1,695) that took the base price of $47,875 to a bottom line of $49,120 with delivery.
To its credit, Explorer Timberline came with impressive government 5-star safety ratings of five for an overall score, five stars for driver/passenger frontal crash, five for front/rear seat side crash and four for rollover.
Explorer has been one of the most popular midsize SUVs sold and the varieties offered make it a compelling choice for those needing seating and cargo capacity with off-road and bad weather abilities.