For 2011 Ford introduced an all-new Explorer. Upon the introduction Ford said that there will be a four-cylinder Ecoboost version, but not until a year later. It is now a year later. The six-cylinder Explorer has been a great sales hit for the company, and now here is the promised only four-cylinder.
Disclosure: Ford invited me to Detroit to sample the Ecoboost Explorer and Edge. I have never been to a press event like this and I reluctantly accepted as I had difficulty taking the day and a half off work. I also read enough of Jack Baruth’s articles to know what to expect. Ford paid for transportation and a nice hotel. I paid $20 for a taxi ride to the airport and worked late the other three days that week.
Typically, when I get into a car that is new to me I spend some time in it before driving off. I want to see what’s what and what’s where so I don’t have to look for anything while driving. At this event we were paired up, given keys, and told to drive. The drive consisted of secondary roads near Ford Proving Grounds; no city or highway driving, just straight, flat 50mph two-lane roads.
The Explorer Ecoboost, and the Edge Ecoboost, is powered by a new direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission. This drive-train is available only in the front-wheel-drive configuration. Ford admits that these vehicles were “not designed with off-roading or towing” in mind (1500lbs towing capacity). I find that a little disappointing as most people buy SUVs for the four-wheel winter traction and not off-roading per se.
My extended drive was in a mid-level Explorer XLT model. Before we departed I asked my co-driver if he could change the radio station and right away that became a problem. Specifically, the problem was with Ford’s audio system, which is totally unintuitive. Finally, after about two minutes (no exaggeration), he managed to find Sirius channel 100. To change the channel again I used the voice-control system and that worked much better. Noteworthy and somewhat related are the two customizable displays on each side of the speedometer, but again, I wish I had more time to play with them.
Loaded with two 200-pound guys, the Explorer moved effortlessly on the flat roads. Power delivery was very linear and smooth, without any turbo-lag or a specific power peak typically associated with smaller turbo engines. Acceleration from a standstill was equally uneventful, with some wheel spin on gravel and quick take offs. The power seems certainly more than adequate for everyday driving, but I am curious to see how it would do with more passengers.
Second portion of the event consisted of driving on the hilly portion of Ford’s Proving Grounds. We were told to follow an instructor in a Ford Raptor (love those!) up, over, and down some hills at varying speeds. We started this portion off in the Edge Ecoboost, and the approximate 600-pound difference between the two vehicles became instantly visible. The Edge felt downright sporty compared to the Explorer. Both vehicles handled the curves and elevation changes in a car-like fashion, without pronounced chassis roll seen on SUVs manufactured not too long ago.
Switching back to the Explorer for the same exercise immediately exemplified the added weight. Around lap number three on this one-mile-plus hilly route I felt comfortable enough to push the Explorer a little harder. That is where, on a particularly steep hill, I finally found myself with the gas pedal to the floor, wishing for more power. I would still like to see how the engine performs on the highway, say during accelerating from 50 to 80mph, such as while passing.
Overall the four-cylinder Explorer pleasantly surprised me, perhaps because I had such low expectations based on other four-cylinder SUVs I drove. The big question is that of fuel economy, where Ford quotes the EPA at 20mpg city and 28mpg highway for the Explorer. The Edge is rated at 21mpg city and 30mpg highway. Unfortunately I had no way of verifying these impressive numbers during my short drive. Ford is aware of the fact that EPA numbers don’t always translate in real-world gas mileage and they pledged to make their fuel mileage figures as real-world as possible.
Typically I spend a weekend with the cars I review. A longer drive on familiar roads, on my own time, allows me to get more familiar with those cars. Everyday events such as installing a car seat or throwing in some groceries allow me to see what it is like to live with them. Taking the time to go through all the settings, menus, and display functions found on modern cars takes some time too. Driving around with passengers, be it other car-guys or family members who know nothing about cars, provides me with valuable feedback which I always include in my reviews. Unfortunately I could not do any of this on this quick press drive.