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2014 Ford Explorer : old school is gone, new is here

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Consumers, especially car-buyers, recognize brand names and identify with them. The F-150 and Mustang are instantly identified as a Ford. Number three on Ford's recognition list is the Explorer. This popular SUV is not a truck, but a crossover. The Ford Explorer offers so much more than it has in the past.

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My teenage granddaughter is currently learning to drive. My son-in-law drives an older model Explorer, which is well-cared-for and nicely equipped. When my granddaughter rode in the test-drive model with my wife and I, she was almost overwhelmed. The exterior is more streamlined, as was expected, but the interior is so much more updated and has so many advanced technical features, she was not sure she was really in an Explorer. The differences were amazing to her, especially the 'connectivity.'

The 'original' Explorer was introduced by Ford as being fairly rough-and-ready, sitting on top of pickup truck frame. The new Ford Explorer is not that same 'old-school' style. It is much more car-like, is much lighter weight, has new engines, and a lot more equipment and technology. At the same time, it maintains its ability to 'go where the pavement does not go' and offers better handling and a smoother ride.

Ford provided a new Ford Explorer for a week-long test drive and I was not disappointed. It was a Ruby Red Metallic with a Char Black Sienna leather trimmed interior. Out of the four possible models, this was the Sport which included four-wheel drive. The four models available in the new Ford Explorer is the standard base, the XLT, Limited, and the Sport.

There are three power-plants available for the Explorer. The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6, which provides 290 horsepower, 255 lb-ft of torque, and is EPA rated for 17/23 mpg city/highway. There are two EcoBoost turbocharged engines available for the Ford Explorer and the EcoBoost configurations are being more and more mainstream in all the Ford vehicles. There is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that offers 240 hp with a 20/28 mpg rating. My test-drive model had the larger 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, which was a twin-turbo, 365 horsepower design. With the four-wheel drive and larger engine, the mileage dropped back to 18 mpg average, although I achieved 21 overall for the week. The most noticeable difference is not the mileage but the 365 horsepower, which provides so much more towing and hauling capability. All three engines are mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission. My Sport model with the EcoBoost V6 included paddle shifters on the steering wheel for the benefit (and/or pleasure) of the driver.

The 2014 model Explorer had very minor changes and upgrades from the 2013 model. Trailer sway control and automatic projector beam headlights were available before, but are now considered standard equipment on all four models.

The Sport model included the new Terrain Management System. This is somewhat like a few other manufacturers offer. It uses a 4x4 shift-on-the-fly that only requires a simple twist of a large knob on the center console. Very simple graphics depict a symbol for snow, mud, sand, and hill descent. The four options make the adjustments in the vehicle’s traction, speed, and handling. This re-designed Explorer is not intended to be a rock-crawler and be a go-anywhere off-roader. It DOES have the capabilities to handle many off-road situations with the Terrain Management System, which was copied from the Land Rover vehicles.

Competitors are generally considered to be the Dodge Durango, Chevy Traverse, and Hyundai Santa Fe. There are some larger competitors, especially from General Motors, that have a lot more room, and of course, a minivan is probably more versatile for large families. But the re-designed Explorer certainly stands out as offering a noticeable smooth ride, a very high-quality interior, tons of up-to-date technology. There is even a USB broadband modem interface which transforms the entire Explorer into a WiFi hotspot.

The base model is slightly above the $30 thousand mark, but comes with a long list of standard equipment. The XLT is in the mid-$30 thousand area with a lot more features. The Limited model approaches the $40 thousand figure. My test-drove model Sport had as base MSRP at $40,720. With a boat-load of added equipment and special options, the bottom sticker price hit $47,390, including the destination and delivery charges.

The best things about the new Ford Explorer is a wonderfully quiet and smooth ride, a solid and firm handling on the road, a nice and technology-loaded interior, and good fuel economy with the EcoBoost engine. There were not too many things to dislike, but the third row seat is a little tight for adults and teenagers, the towing capability is slightly less than before, and the side windows appear to be more narrow. The Sport model will go almost anywhere and do almost anything, but if that is not needed, the XLT model might be the best value overall.

The three-row, seven passenger car-like SUV is becoming a hit with consumers and the Ford Explorer is at the front of the pack. The 'old-school' is gone and replaced by a new modern version. Check out the new re-designed Explorer at a Ford dealership yourself and enjoy the performance, convenience, and craftsmanship.

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