First Test: 2012 Ford Explorer EcoBoost
What Are You Left With After Removing Sport and Utility?
"It's just such inefficient packaging," crowed bossman Angus MacKenzie as we stood contemplating Ford's big-on-the-outside, cramped-on-the-inside kiddie hauler. What exactly is so wrong with it? "It's intellectually dishonest," continued Angus. "It looks roomy, but it's not. It looks sporty, but it's not. And the interior looks good, but that MyFord Touch is a mess. It's just a bad vehicle." Keep in mind, Angus hadn't even driven the four-banger version yet.
But I had, and Mr. Mac is right. The Explorer is bad. Bad as in I can't remember driving a car as dynamically lifeless. Nor could others. "Handles like an oversize, overweight Volvo," states our Detroit scribe Todd Lassa. Says associate editor Mike Febbo, "It sits and handles like a truck, but it's a tall car." Executive editor Ed Loh feels much the same. "It's like driving a large overstuffed armchair. The cushions are very soft and squishy, but you sit so far inboard that it's weird." And then there's associate editor Rory Jurnecka's take: "Wallowy in the slalom and figure-eight with understeer being the flavor of choice. This isn't fun."
But at the end of the day, it's the EcoBoost's performance, and lack thereof, that really confounds and confuses us. The non-punch-pulling Febbo explains, "The EcoBoost is a horrible idea in this thing. Well, the four-banger is anyway. Let's get a V-6 EcoBoost in there." Scott Evans continues, "Soooo Slow. There's just not much throttle response." The EcoBoost is such a slug that to me, the white Explorer just doesn't register as a new car. It feels like it hails from the first half of the 1990s.
My own notes say, "Weak engine equals slow truck, but for mommies hauling four girls to ballet class, who cares?" But, as Jurnecka notes, the Explorer EcoBoost really is a tortoise. "Woefully slow. Is there actually a power band to be in, or does the engine just produce noise and heat? I can't even get this thing to 100 mph at the end of the straight." If you're curious, 0-60 mph happened in 9.2 seconds. On the bright side, that's half-a-second quicker than a Fiat 500. The little 101-hp Italian closes the gap in the quarter-mile, doing so in 17.2 seconds compared with the 2.0-liter Explorer's 16.9.
Yes, yes, fine, you don't buy the EcoBoosted version of the Explorer for performance. You buy it to sip fuel. Well, during our (pretty much) real-world testing, the 2.0-liter Explorer returned a combined 19.9 miles per gallon, an exactly 1.5-mpg increase over the standard 3.5-liter V-6 Explorer. That's an improvement, sure, but not an earth-shattering one. But, as tech editor Frank Markus points out, "At least it's $1,000 more expensive!" Also, we got that mpg number when the Explorer was empty and unloaded. Imagine if a dad plus four ballerinas plus all their junk were onboard. And we did, as our own Nate Martinez drove the EcoBoost Explorer around fully loaded and found it couldn't hold a gear. The engine is just mismatched to the vehicle. Instead of the 2.0-liter turbo as gas-miser, Ford would have been much better served offering up a diesel.
Then there's the interior. It's problematic. If you've never spent much time thinking about the 2012 Ford Explorer before, this should be your takeaway: It's not an SUV anymore. Rather, it's a crossover -- a tall wagon. Which is fine, or would be fine, except that the Explorer is based on the same blah Volvo sedan chassis that underpins the Taurus, a car we continually knock for having a deceptively small amount of interior space, among other problems. You can imagine what happens then if you stretch and repurpose a five-passenger sedan into a seven-seater SUV. Compromise, and lots of it.
I'll let Frank take it from here. "Terrible dead pedal -- WAY too far aft of the accelerator. This fouled-up footwell geometry makes it nearly impossible for me to get comfortable in this cockpit. I ended up raising the seat way up as high as it could go to try to get my foot comfortable. I also resent sitting so far inboard. Hard to use the armrest comfortably and it makes the truck just feel gratuitously wide."
The third row is absurdly cramped, and the second row isn't much better. Your teenager(s) will only resent you more. Says Loh, "Ergonomically it's mess. Side pillar intrusion is laughable. I saw Lieberman crack his noggin really hard whilst loading in coolers. Not so funny when you do the same thing yourself moments later." Febbo also gets a dig in. "Horrible seats, no support, no comfort, why are they here?"
But the real 800-pound problem gorilla in the Explorer room is MyFord Touch. Just as an experiment, I decided to -- with the car parked -- keep my right arm as still as humanly possible and "touch" the fan control the same way 10 times in a row, moving only my index finger. Results? I got what I wanted six times out of 10. Which is, as my ninth-grade French teacher taught me so well, a D-minus. Zut alors! Says Rory, "Can Ford admit defeat with the MyTouch interface? How so many Ford owners enjoy this, I haven't a clue. I suspect they love the idea of it without playing with it much before purchasing then realize what a catastrophe it is."
There you have it. Slow, clumsy, pricey, thirstier than we would have thought, and a packaging disaster, the new Ford Explorer EcoBoost is not a Motor Trend favorite. We're not sure we even like the styling anymore. Here's Loh: "Looks like the Range Rover Evoque’s older, fatter, balding middle-aged brother." Concludes Mr. Lassa, "The Explorer may prove wrong the cliché that there are no bad cars anymore, as it's hard to find anything good to say about this SUV. At best, it's mediocre." Here's to next time.
|2012 Ford Explorer Limited|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$42,305|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/240-hp/270-lb-ft turbo DOHC 4-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4512 lb (54/46%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||197.1 x 78.9 x 70.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.9 sec @ 82.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||130 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||29.2 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)|
|MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON||19.9 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||20/28 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||169/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.85 lb/mile|