2013 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD First Test

Redemption Song: Is Third Time the Charm for This Three-Row CUV?

Edward A. SanchezJul 16, 2012
We haven't been too kind to the new Ford Explorer. The last model we tested, a 2012 Limited 2.0-liter EcoBoost, earned major demerits for its lack of performance and underwhelming fuel economy. The model before that, a pre-production 2011 Limited much like the one you see here, suffered from quality issues. But that was almost two years ago, and Ford has made some incremental improvements in the intervening months, particularly to MyFord Touch. Are the changes enough to allow this 2013 Ford Explorer Limited to win our hearts over? Let's find out.
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First, it should be noted that the Explorer Limited is extremely well-equipped. About the only option our tester didn't have was a sunroof, and the feature list on the Monroney reads more like the list for a Lexus, Land Rover, or another upscale brand. And it's not just a big gadget-dump on an otherwise crude vehicle. The Explorer has baked-in refinement evident from its decent isolation from road noise and the muted hum coming from its 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6.
But as good of a first impression as all this technology and equipment makes, it almost comes across as overwhelming in a vehicle of this class. Since when did a heated, power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel become an expectation in a mainstream midsize SUV?
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To be fair, most of the over-the-top amenities are bundled in the $6460 Equipment Group 302A. The package includes voice-activated navigation, power-folding third-row seats, power liftgate, the aforementioned steering wheel, inflatable rear seatbelts, blind spot monitoring, active park assist, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, HID headlights, and rain-sensing wipers. This is on top of the already high level of equipment on the Limited trim.
This generous level of equipment also carries a generous price tag. The total for our tester came to $46,850. For comparison, a Lexus RX350 AWD starts at $41,585; the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 starts at $40,220; and the recently introduced Infiniti JX35 AWD starts at $42,500. Of course, comparably equipped, these models can easily crest the $50,000 mark.
The Explorer feels very wide, and at 78.9 inches, its width is greater than that of the aforementioned models. In fact, the Explorer is one-tenth of an inch wider than even the full-size body-on-frame Expedition. But all that wideness doesn't exactly translate inside. The cabin, while comfortable, does feel a bit cozy. The width also results in an annoyingly prominent doorsill that forces drivers and passengers to step over the sill to get out. For this 5' 11" adult male, it was a minor inconvenience.
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The newly simplified MyFord Touch control and electronics interface likely is indicative of the future of automotive interiors, whether you like it or not. The Explorer's application is one of the more extreme examples of the feature, forsaking almost all conventional buttons on the center console for a flat surface with virtual buttons marked with white lettering. The only major physical control of note is a large center power button and volume knob for the radio. It should be noted that none of the issues we experienced with the 2011 tester's MyFord Touch system cropped up.
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In this application, MyFord Touch also takes over most of the gauge cluster, with only the speedometer having conventional needles and an analog numbers display. The rest of the gauges and displays are configurable via steering-wheel-mounted controls. Choices are too numerous to list here but include fuel level, engine temperature, and a tiny virtual tachometer about the size of the face of a men's watch. I prefer the more balanced application of MyFord touch in the new 2013 Escape, which has traditional, prominent analog displays for the speedometer, tachometer, and fuel and temperature levels along with a multi-function display that's housed prominently but not obnoxiously between the two main gauges. The Escape also has redundant climate controls and physical buttons to access other features.
Performance generally didn't deviate much from the 2011 model we tested. The 0-60 run was completed in 8.0 seconds, 0.2 seconds slower than the '11, but the quarter-mile time was identical save for the trap speed, which was 0.5 mph higher on the 2013. At 0.79 g (avg), skidpad performance was similar. The only area where there was deviation was our figure-eight time. Curiously, the 2013 Explorer needed 1.1 seconds more than the 2011 to make it all the way around. Not that it matters too much, as few customers shopping for a midsize three-row SUV are likely to be itching for stoplight drag races. For those who do, Ford offers the 2013 Explorer Sport, which shoehorns the 350+hp EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 from the Taurus SHO under the hood. The boosted powertrain promises to slice about two seconds off the 0-60 sprint.
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If you're looking for a quiet, relatively comfortable three-row midsize SUV with gadgets galore, and aren't fixated on having a status vehicle in your driveway, the Explorer Limited packs a lot of goodies at a relatively reasonable price. Just don't expect an out-of-the-ordinary driving experience. Consider the Explorer (somewhat) redeemed.
2013 Ford Explorer Limited
BASE PRICE $40,680
PRICE AS TESTED $46,850
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/290-hp/255-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4782 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 112.6 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 197.1 x 78.9 x 71.0 in
0-60 MPH 8.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.1 sec @ 88.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 120 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 17/23 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 198/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.01 lb/mile

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Ford Explorer

Fair Market Price
$29,106
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $30,700
Mileage: 17 / 24
Engine: 3.5L V6
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