The new generation Ford Explorer doesn’t explore far off the beaten path

I took the opportunity to test out a new generation Ford Explorer in the relative wilds of Kauai, Hawaii.

It had been a long time since I’d driven a Ford Explorer. Twenty years ago my first car was a 1992 Ford Explorer 4×4 in an obnoxious shade of bright blue. It had an I-beam front suspension, and an interior designed by Mattel, and it was forever known by every mechanic I knew as an “Exploder.” Now into its sixth generation, how have things changed with this 2020 Ford Explorer Limited… or have they?

We arrived in Kauai, Hawaii, with reservations for a minivan. I hadn’t even planned to do any automotive writing while on vacation—an entire vacation from everything. The plans soon changed when the shoddy Grand Caravan we were provided with proved to be a hot mess of deferred maintenance. Once I felt the power steering pump causing a steady vibration while turning at slow speeds (among other issues), I turned it back in and rolled the dice on the next ride in the “midsized” category.

I arrived back at the rental company to find this Explorer was set aside as a replacement for the minivan. I scoffed as I remembered prior generations of Explorer and my neon and laser blue example. This was not one of the stripped-out base models I’m familiar with, this was a higher-end “Limited”. I didn’t—and to some regards still don’t—know much about Explorers other than they’re often the first name when you think of ‘automotive shovel ware.’ They’ve been transporting legions of families around the world for the last 30 years.

I’ve always said Explorers were purchased by the most indifferent and disinterested humans. Occasionally, I’ve even seen them purchased by buyers whose eyes are too close together to be considered trustworthy. They’re the bread and butter of government fleets and incurious organizations. It was this long-standing observation that became the basis for me to try and prove or disprove myself. Was it merely price? Maybe Ford has an excellent fleet sales department?

Both questions might be true, but realistically, it’s because most Explorers just work. They’re no frill garden carts you’d find at a home improvement store. They don’t beg you to stab the accelerator, nor drift around suburban corners. There just isn’t much here that’s going to grab you by the groin. It’s a car made for errands and blending in. The power is decent from the four-cylinder EcoBoost; it goes forward with some emphasis, but never too much. The interior is laid out in a manner most agreeable to your first-world requirements with things such as two wireless charging pads and bins on bins of storage.

This Limited trim might have made me a bit biased as I know these cars can be had with fewer options than a farrier’s shed. It has well-bolstered leather upholstered captain’s chairs, dual-zone climate, automatic do-dads everywhere, and a power-folding third row. There were buttons on top of buttons and enough cupholders to allow everyone in the family to double-fist with no worries.

At first, I thought nothing more of this car as being the automotive equivalent of persona non grata. The more I drove it, I enjoyed blending in with the herd and pretending I was not the black sheep that I truly am. I consistently drove the Explorer with the gauges switched to display the off-road inclinometer and the engine left in its sport setting. All tasks were successfully tackled during our trip to Hawaii’s oldest major island. That was until one-half of the power folding rear seat broke and became stuck in the up position—in perfect Ford Explorer fashion. Turns out the new Explorer isn’t so much different than the one I remember as a kid.


– M. T. Blake

( / IG @ _mtblake)

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