Ford is arguably the king of crossovers and SUVs in North America, having practically drawn the template for the mid-size SUV with the original Explorer in the early 1990s.
Since then, this utility has grown way up in size and style thanks to a 2016 redesign that gave this mainstream model a decidedly upscale look. That appearance gets a subtle update for 2018, along with the addition of active safety features bundled into a Safe and Smart option package, some new wheel options and a Wi-Fi hotspot that can connect up to 10 devices to the Internet.
That leaves Explorer's fundamentals unchanged. Base power is from a 3.5L V6 good for 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, with a 2.3L EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder serving as an option with its 280 hp and 310 lb-ft. The Explorer Sport sticks with its trim-exclusive 3.5L turbo V6 and its V8-like 365 hp and 350 lb-ft.
Base and XLT trims can be had with front- or all-wheel drive, while pricier models, including the Sport, are AWD-only. All Explorers come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Explorer comes across as a modern family vehicle that can also handle itself reasonably well off-road thanks to a terrain management system that lets the driver tailor drivetrain responses to a variety of environmental conditions. And kitting one out in the Platinum trim brings features like a dual-panel sunroof, heated steering wheel, front and rear camera systems, LED headlights, hands-free tailgate, power-folding side mirrors, power-adjustable steering column and pedals, remote engine start, navigation and power-folding third-row seating and heated second-row chairs.
While the Explorer is marketed as a more rugged alternative to the less-expensive Flex and any number of ostensibly lighter-duty crossovers, its maximum 2,267-kg (5,000 lbs) tow rating trails that of the Dodge Durango, a similarly-sized truck that can haul at least 2,800 kg.
That means Ford's biggest challenge comes from vehicles like the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and GM's Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia twins, all vehicles worthy of consideration in a class of vehicle aimed squarely at families with active lifestyles.
Fuel consumption estimates start at 12.6/8.6 L/100 km (city/highway) with the four-cylinder and FWD, while a V6/AWD model is rated at 14.4/10.5 L/100 km. The Sport's turbo V6's estimates are an optimistic 14.8/10.7.