Ford’s Explorer wasn’t the first compact/mid-size SUV, but shortly after its introduction in 1990 it was among the most popular, quickly catching up to the Jeep Cherokee despite that model having had more than a five-year head start.
Call that a testament to Ford’s ability to turn just about any vehicle segment it touches to gold: the Explorer’s explosion onto the marketplace spawned all kinds of competitors from all kinds of manufacturers and created the juggernaut that SUVs have become in North America.
For 2019, Explorer’s changes are minor: the base trim is gone, leaving XLT as the entry point; XLT is now standard with a 2.3L Ecoboost turbocharged four-cylinder engine and optional with a 3.5L V6, the opposite of last year’s model. All Explorer trims are now 4WD (the XLT used to start out as a front-driver) and come standard with blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert.
New to the option sheet is an XLT Copper package that adds 20-inch wheels, chrome side mirrors and black leather seating to the entry-level XLT trim.
The Explorer is otherwise carried over from 2018. The 2.3L engine makes 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque in XLT and Limited trims, while the optional 3.5L is good for 290 hp and 255 lb-ft in naturally aspirated form. Turbocharging helps the V6 produce 365 hp and 350 lb-ft in the Explorer’s Sport and Platinum trims.
Making the Explorer all AWD all the time means all versions get Ford’s terrain management system, which tailors the behaviour of the 4WD system, transmission and engine controls to a variety of environmental conditions at the twist of a dial on the centre console.
Platinum trim turns the Explorer into a pretty solid luxury vehicle with features like a dual-panel sunroof, heated steering wheel, front and rear exterior cameras, LED headlights, hands-free tailgate, power-folding side mirrors, power-adjustable steering column and pedals, navigation, power-folding third-row seats and heated second-row seating.
While the Explorer is positioned above the Flex in Ford’s SUV lineup, there’s a lot of overlap between the two in terms of interior space and towing capacity; Explorer’s specs line up nicely against cars like the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Chevrolet Traverse, while the Dodge Durango, which seems like a more natural competitor, boasts a bigger tow rating and can be fitted with a muscle car V8 in its SRT variant.
Ford’s fuel consumption estimates for the Explorer are 13.1/9.2 L/100 km (city/highway) with the four-cylinder engine and 15.2/10.9 for Sport and Limited models with their turbo V6.