The Ford Explorer is our best midsize SUV, based on 2017 sales.
For those of you seeking adventure in a capable, comfortable SUV, check out the Ford Explorer. It’s our best midsize SUV, based on sales across all CarMax stores from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017.
Why is the Ford Explorer selling well enough at CarMax to be our best midsize SUV? We think shoppers are drawn to many of the top features they’ll find in this midsize SUV, which vary depending on the model year, trim, and other available options selected. With top features like the extra back seat and other features, it’s not surprising that the Explorer is on our list of the best midsize SUVs of 2017.
As well, the Ford Explorer sits right at the #1 spot on our ranked list of the 20 best SUVs with 3 rows.
At CarMax, 2014-2016 Explorers, in all trims, are available for between $25,000 and $31,000.1 If you’re looking for a 2017 Explorer, these newer used SUVS (in all available trims) can be found for less than $38,000 at CarMax.1
In this Ford Explorer review, we’ll take a look at this best midsize SUV and its capabilities, as well as the different trims you’ll find across different years. We’ve got answers to your top questions!
In production since 1991, the Explorer might not have started the SUV craze, but it’s certainly been around since the beginning of the modern, hold-everything, go just about anywhere in comfort, family vehicle.
The Explorer is most decidedly an SUV. It’s been touted by Ford as one of the first modern SUVs built for the US market, and it’s been in continuous production longer than almost any other SUV (touché, Jeep Cherokee!). It’s also known as a crossover SUV.
As crossovers go, the Explorer stands out because it’s got a seriously-popular-these-days third-row seat, which gives it the ability to hold up to seven passengers.
Here are 10 reasons to buy a Ford Explorer.
- Power-folding 3rd-row seat. It’s not available in all models, but in some trims like you’ll find in the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum, the 3rd-row seat folds flat at the touch of a button. Well, both seats, technically, since the third row in this vehicle is made up of two bucket seats that can go up and down together or individually.
- 2nd-row captains’ chairs option. Some later models, like the2016 Ford Explorer Sport, are available with a choice of seating behind the two front seats. You can choose either two bucket seats with a console between them or a fold-flat bench seat that’s configured with a 60/40 split. When done up in leather, the four-bucket setup gives your interior a serious appearance that looks quite executive, even if you’re just hauling your junior executives to play at the pool. Plus, with this setup, there’ll be no more arguing over who’s on whose side back there.
- Huge moonroof. Some Ford Explorers, like the 2015 Ford Explorer XLT, come with a two-panel moonroof as an option. The front panel is smaller, and the opening over the second row of seats is more panoramic. The result is an interior space that feels very open and airy, especially in the back seats.
- Front and rear-heated seats. Why should the front-seated passengers get all the comfort? Many Explorers, including the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum, give you the option of heated rear seats, so more passengers can feel toasty.
- Dual heat/cooling controls and AC plug-in. For your back-seat passengers, there’s plenty of comfort control mounted on the back of the center console. Plus, in some trims like the 2015 Ford Explorer Platinum, there’s a 110V plug for keeping devices charged up and operating on longer trips.
- Twin-turbo V6. As the biggest of the three available engine options for recent modle/years of this SUV, this double-turbocharged, 365-hp V6 gets the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum edition going from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, according to Car & Driver.
- XLT available with Sport trim. Love the more aggressive look of the Explorer Sport? Ford recently added the Sport-look option (blackout grille, roof rack, and trim plus 20-inch wheels) to its Explorer XLT. Check out the 2017 Explorer XLT with this package (look for “Sport Package” in the list of features) to see what we mean.
- Serious legroom. Front-seat and second-row passengers have lots of space to stretch out; in models like the 2015 Ford Explorer Limited, you’ll find more than 43 inches of legroom. The third row is best-suited for the youngsters in your family (adults can fit back there, but it’s probably not the most comfortable arrangement for longer trips).
- Lots of storage space. With all rows of seats folded flat, the 2017 Ford Explorer, in all trims, gives you nearly 82 cubic feet of storage space. That’s a lot of room. That’s enough space to let you carry the equivalent of 272 cases of soda or other beverages2.
- Real storage space behind the third-row seat. Lots of 3-row SUVs have seats-up storage in back that’s mostly an afterthought — maybe space for two soft-sided duffle bags, and that’s about it. With its third-row seat in place, the 2014 Ford Explorer XLT gives you 21 cubic feet of cargo space.
How does the Explorer drive and handle?
Explorers sold since 2015 give drivers a choice of three engines: the 280 hp, turbocharged 2.3L EcoBoost four-cylinder like you’ll find in the 2016 Ford Explorer Limited, a naturally-aspirated, 3.5L V6 (see the 2015 Ford Explorer XLT) that’s good for 290 hp, or a 365-hp, twin-turbo V6 like you can find in the Platinum and Sport models. This big engine really gives you a surprising amount of power for a midsized SUV.
The trade-off with the big engine here, of course, is mpg; all this power can cost you in the mileage department. According to fueleconomy.gov, the twin-turbo V6 2017 Platinum Explorer, when equipped with Intelligent 4WD, which operates like an AWD system, gets an estimated2 16 city/22 hwy mpg.
Depending on how you drive, the turbo-four and 3.5L V6 give you the ability to get more miles per gallon than the twin-turbo V-6 engine, with adequate get-up-and-go, while carrying plenty of passengers and gear.
A word about all-wheel drive and the Explorer. Ford’s system is called Intelligent 4WD, and we’ll be honest here — the details can be confusing.
Intelligent 4WD isn’t the classic four-wheel-drive system where you chose “4WD high” or “4WD low” from inside the cabin. The Explorer’s Intelligent 4WD works by letting you choose from a series of terrain conditions, and then the vehicle’s computer sensors “push” power to the wheels that already have traction. This boosts your Explorer’s ability to handle itself in different types of driving.
This sounds a little like all-wheel drive — (see our AWD vs 4WD: Which to Choose article), but a pure AWD system operates without driver input. Intelligent 4WD gives you some control over your Explorer’s operation over different terrain.
The Explorer gets you where you’re going with plenty of comfort and convenience, too. Models like the 2017 Ford Explorer Limited come with a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, and heated second row bucket seats, adaptive cruise control, SYNC® 3 infotainment system (operate your iPhone® or Android™ device through your Explorer!), and voice-activated navigation.
If you’re looking for different SUVs that offer the same size and similar features, check out the vehicles below. All are midsized SUVs that can be had with a 3rd-row seat for extra passenger-carrying capacity.
- Nissan Pathfinder. Another capable, truck-like vehicle that has morphed into an SUV full of creature comforts, the Pathfinder is on our list of the best SUVs for 2017. The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder SV has 4WD and seating for up to seven passengers, plus a blind-spot monitor and navigation system.
- Chevrolet Traverse. The Traverse made our list of the best midsize SUVs of 2017 because it’s one of our best-selling SUVs. The 2017 Chevrolet Traverse LT can seat up to eight passengers and can tow an estimated 5,200 lbs when properly equipped4.
- Kia Sorento. The Sorento also holds a spot on our best SUVs of 2017 list, and it can seat either five or seven passengers. The AWD 2016 Kia Sorento LX ‘s 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder is good for 290 hp and an estimated3 19 city/25 hwy mpg.
- Toyota Highlander. Toyota’s Highlander is a midsized SUV with three rows of seats and is on our list of the 20 best SUVs with three rows of seats. The removable center section available in one configuration of the 2017 Toyota Highlander Limited’s 2nd-row seat, which allows access to the third row, is a convenient feature.
We like the Explorer for a lot of reasons. If we had to pick just one reason, it’s that the Explorer is a best midsized SUV that seats up to seven and still gives you legit storage space.
Plus, the latest Explorers look sharp; we think the post-2015-facelift models are far and away the best-looking Explorers yet. They’re a solid mix of brawn and, yes, beautiful functionality.
The 2017 Ford Explorer Sport trim, with its available 20-inch wheels, twin-turbo engine, and blackout trim, turns the Explorer into a pretty cool family-hauler (especially with a super-bad, deep cherry-red paint job).
If you’re ready to start shopping, be sure to take a look at our Best Midsize SUVs article. You can also look at the used Ford Explorers we’ve got on our lots right now. For further research, see our detailed Ford Explorer research guide. Or, you can check out our SUV buying guide.
Some other not-to-be-missed SUV-shopping resources include:
1Based on prices on carmax.com in November , 2017. Actual prices may vary based on your selected model year, features and trim packages. Prices do not include taxes, tags, titles, and any applicable fees.
2We did the math; 82 cubic feet is equal to 78,454 ounces, or the equivalent of 6,538 12-ounce cans. Look, we’re car reviewers trying to translate cubic feet into usable space, and math makes us pretty thirsty.
3Fuel economy figures are based on EPA estimates for when vehicle sold as new. Fuel economy may vary for reasons like driving conditions and vehicle history. Unless specified, figures are for vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. See fueleconomy.gov.
4 Various factors may impact towing capacity, including weight of passengers, cargo, and options/accessories.
Unless otherwise noted, information relating to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information. Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.