The Explorer is offered in base, XLT and Limited models, and no matter the model, it comes with three well-designed rows of seating and room for up to seven (the second row comes with two bucket seats for adults). While the third row is kid-sized, it's easier to fold than those on just about any other model--thanks to the simple, single-button power-folding system. Parents will also note that LATCH fasteners for child seats are included in the second-row outboard positions. And if you flip both the second and third rows forward, there's a cavernous (and well-shaped) 81 cubic feet of cargo space.
With the EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine, fuel economy is one of the best in this class of vehicle: 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. There is one caveat for the EcoBoost engine--it's only available with front-wheel drive, so any shoppers needing the all-weather security of 4-wheel drive will need to step up to the V6. The larger engine isn't all that bad though, with EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
The 4-wheel drive system in the Explorer is designed with the urban driving done by most Explorer owners in mind, but it does include a Terrain Management system that cleverly recalibrates the system for snow, sand or mud when needed. With 4-wheel drive, there's also Hill Descent Control, to help maintain composure on steep, slippery slopes.
Standard equipment on the Explorer is more extensive than what's found in most mainstream-brand vehicles. Cruise control, a media hub system, four 12-volt powerpoints, capless fuel-filling and the MyKey control/monitoring feature are all standard on the base model, while optional or standard models on the upper XLT or Limited trims include dual-zone climate control; remote start; power-folding, heated side-view mirrors; reverse sensing; ambient lighting, adjustable pedals, a rearview camera system, push-button start and a 110-volt AC outlet.
Also of note is MyFord Touch, a touch-screen-based interface that combines a host of vehicle, information and entertainment functions in an interface that appears a bit like that of iPads or other tablet computers. The system works together with Ford's Sync interface to interact seamlessly--and with voice commands--with media players, smartphones and music on USB sticks.
All Explorers include both Roll Stability Control and Curve Control sophisticated stability control systems. Safety Canopy side-curtain airbags also cover all three rows, and an SOS Post-Crash System helps alert authorities if the airbags deploy. Even more advanced, safety-related tech features on the Explorer include adaptive cruise control with a collision warning system and brake support and a Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert; both are features that could lessen the impact of an accident or help avoid it entirely.
The Ford Explorer is essentially unchanged for 2014. There are a few new colors and Limited models now come standard with heated second row seats. Otherwise the vehicle remains identical to last year's model.