2013 Ford Explorer LTD 4WD

One of the things that executives at vehicle manufacturers like to say is that their goal is to have products that are “best-in-class” in several if not all metrics related to their vehicles.

One of the things that executives at vehicle manufacturers like to say is that their goal is to have products that are “best-in-class” in several if not all metrics related to their vehicles. Which is certainly a laudable goal. But before too long it becomes something akin to the children in Lake Wobegon, all of whom, apparently, are above average. Yet in the case of cars and trucks, it is even more extreme, because if best is “of the highest degree,” then it is pretty difficult for the multitudinous manufacturers to all have the best.

So claims have to be taken with boulders of salt, not mere grains.

Including this one: I think the 2013 Explorer is a remarkable vehicle. While I won’t use the B-word, I don’t have any hesitation in saying that I was surprised and impressed by this utility vehicle.

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No, it isn’t a sport utility vehicle, if the classic “body-on-frame” definition is used as part of the descriptor for an SUV. And maybe it’s just me, but when I think of crossover utility vehicles, I think of things that are both smaller (the Explorer has a 112.6-in wheelbase, so “small” doesn’t seem apt) and more car-like (although there are products like the GM Traverse, Acadia, and Enclave that are crossovers and aren’t diminutive).

While I didn’t avail myself of the opportunity to dial around the knob in the center-console –located “Terrain Management System,” which sets up the vehicle for snow, sand, mud, normal, and hill descent, I don’t think that that functionality was added unless it is, well, functional. So it is built for the rough(er) stuff. For those hung up on the lack of frame rails, know that the Jeep Grand Cherokee doesn’t have them, either, and it is more than capable when it comes to the really tough stuff.

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What is surprising to me about the Explorer is how, at least as speced for the version I had the opportunity to spend time in, it leaves you wanting for nothing. From the keyless entry to the pushbutton start, from the leather trimmed seats to the Sony audio system, from the adjustable pedals and tilt and telescoping steering column to the reverse sensors and rearview camera. . .this vehicle has it and more. And what’s more, the quality of all of these things is first-rate, not cut-rate. And those aforementioned features are standard with the trim level of the car. It was optioned with a package that added a voice-activated navigation system, heated steering wheel (while I once thought it was somewhat silly—as in, “What, you’ve never heard of gloves?”—I think it is really quite a wonderful indulgence, better than heated seats—“What, you’ve never heard of pants?”), rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, collision-warning system, and more. A word about that collision-warning system. It uses sensors (also used by the adaptive cruise control) and if the system determines that you are closing too quickly on something, you are made aware without any doubt thanks to red lights and buzzers. This is the sort of thing that ought to become a requirement in more cars, particularly given the issue of distracted driving. You’re distracted no more than once when this system kicks in.

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In addition to the amenities and features, what is also nice about the Explorer is that it seems solid as, well, I would use the expression “a rock,” except for the fact that rocks don’t much move, and this has a 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic, and it moves reasonably well, both as regards performance and fuel efficiency. And this sense of solidity isn’t entirely subjective as the vehicle scores “Good” in the IIHS ratings for frontal offset, side impact, rear impact, and roof strength. “Good” is as good as it gets.

Which brings me back to Lake Wobegon, or at least to the Twin Cities, from whence “A Prairie Home Companion” originates. If you’ve ever been to St. Paul and Minneapolis and their environs, you’ve probably noticed that they really have a lot of first-rate museums (e.g., the Walker Art Center), attractions and restaurants. It always occurred to me that being not just in the Midwest but in the Upper Midwest, there was a feeling that they’d really show the rest of the country what they could do, so they really over achieved. When the Explorer went away for a while, after that whole tire debacle, I suspect there were more than a few people in Dearborn who knew that when they brought it back, the Explorer had to be superlative. It had to be the best. And so they overachieved with the Explorer.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter I4 with twin-independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT)

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 290 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 255 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with SelectShift

Wheelbase: 112.6 in.

Length: 197.1 in.

Width: 90.2 in. (with mirrors)

Height: 71 in.

Base MSRP: $39,855

Total MSRP (including $825 d&d): $46,850

Recommended fuel: 87 octane

EPA: 17/23 mpg city/hwy