My Week With Ford: 2012 Ford Explorer EcoBoost
I have to admit, this vehicle constantly surprised me. From the outside, especially compared to other 7-seater vehicles, it looks quite compact – but when you get in, you definitely notice the expansive amount of space that Ford has given you. There definitely is a sense of ownership over the road when you’re driving it – the constant stares are also enjoyable. I did, on occasion, catch myself checking out a car on the road not realizing that it’s the same vehicle I was driving – I guess that says something about the exterior design. I typically don’t enjoy driving larger vehicles, but there was something easy and comfortable about this one that took away all my reservations.
I probably don’t need to say much because the vehicle sort of speaks for itself, but its a definite improvement on the perception of what I envision when I think of a Ford Explorer. There is a lot more attention to detail – Ford has really tried to get away from the chunky feel of the old Explorer styling. It almost feels like this isn’t just a purpose-driven vehicle anymore – you don’t just buy this car to act as a children-hauler, it’s something you’d buy as an everyday car, something to show off your friends and even get a hint of jealousy. It functions as a 7-seater purposeful vehicle, but is styled closer to a smaller crossover SUV.
The model that I had was fully equipped with heated leather seats – leather armrest and a really well-constructed dashboard. It was definitely a lot more than I expected – I know from test driving older Ford F-150’s, there didn’t ever seem to be as much attention to detail as there is now and things seemed a bit cheaper in quality back then – Ford has definitely stepped-up their game in terms of interior styling. They know what people want from their vehicle, and they definitely deliver. It actually ends up feeling quite luxurious when you’re sitting in it, which is a definite improvement from the older models.
I also found the wood panel detailing to be a rather nice addition to the esthetics of the vehicle. I’m definitely a chrome fan (not everyone is,) but it can very often be over done – the Ford Explorer was a very tasteful use of Chrome – using it only to accent certain pieces of the car without overdoing it and making the car look cheap.
I was singing the praise of Ford as I pulled into my first parking stall. As you may or may not know from my last post about the Ford Focus, the turning radius on that car was almost laughable – but this is not the case in the Explorer. Turning and parking was not a problem – plus, the front end of the vehicle is very visible from the driver’s seat, so pulling into a parking stall is not a guessing game, you can see exactly how far you are from things.
Driving this on the highway was enjoyable, as it was with the Focus. It’s an easy ride and kind of drove like what you’d expect from an older boat of a car – gliding down the highway like you’re on a cloud. That might be a bit of an exaggeration as you are driving a full-sized SUV, but it was far more comfortable and peaceful than you might expect, or get from its counterparts. The handling was quite tight, which can be a negative for some people, but it’s definitely a godsend for anyone who has to drive long distances, especially on a highway.
The other thing to note is the gas mileage of the Explorer – it’s actually incredible. This vehicle is a 4-cylinder with an EcoBoost engine. When I first found this out I was in absolute shock – mainly because I had already driven it, and was amazed at how fast it moved given that it’s not a V6 – but that’s where the EcoBoost feature comes in. As normal, Ford is leading the field in fuel economy – the EcoBoost is no exception. The short and simple way to explain the EcoBoost is to say that it basically takes a 4-cylinder engine and makes it perform like a V6, but leaves you with the fuel economy of the 4-cylinders. It’s actually amazing and is definitely a major push in the right direction when it comes to fuel consumption. Given where gas prices are headed, this is a definite selling feature.
When I see the look of the dashboard console, I admit that it definitely fits the look and styling of the vehicle; however, I do have my complaints about it. This is definitely something that I prefer to the Focus over the Explorer, and it’s the gauges for temperature, fan control, etc. Call me old-fashioned, but where are my knobs? I get that it’s technology and that’s cool, people love technology – but the over use of technology ends up killing the convenience and making typically useful and easy tasks much more complicated. It’s not to say that every gauge needs a clunky knob, but it does mean that some of the more used tasks need to be easy to find. Everything in terms of gauges is flush on a panel, only indicated by a light surrounding the choice. So, you want to change the fan speed, or you want to turn the heat up – each of those options has a plus and a minus button that will do as you want. My problem is not with the function, but rather the execution of the task. For example, because the buttons are completely flush on the panel, it’s nearly impossible to do simple tasks, like changing the temperature or fan speed without looking away from the road – turning on A/C, dual climate control, and defrosting your windows/mirrors. It becomes increasingly frustrating when you’re trying to concentrate on the road, but need to make an adjustment. Maybe that’s just me being picky, but it’s definitely something that I’d consider when looking at purchasing this vehicle.
I’ve gone enough into the Navigation system in my review of the Ford Focus, and not much has changed in the technology; although, it did seem to work a little faster than in the Focus. I do however want to mention the seat heaters. I love this feature – it was actually one of the main things I was looking for when I purchased a new vehicle recently – when you live in 6-8 months of cold winter, it’s definitely a nice feature to have. The Explorer did come with this feature, but it was only accessible through the navigation panel. I could only assume that I was just unable to find the proper button, as I don’t think that every edition of the Explorer comes with the MyFordTouch screen (or maybe I’m wrong about that too,) but it did seem a bit inconvenient that such a minute task would be so difficult to execute.
My only other frustration with the technology of the Explorer was the change that was made to the turning signal. It seems like such a small thing, and I don’t think most people even consider their habits and what they’re used to in terms of a turning signal. But, with the change Ford has made to it, it takes some getting used to. In most vehicles that I’ve ever driven, when you turn the signal on, in full force, it locks in place until it realizes you’ve made a turn large enough to push it out of lock position. Ford has opted for a signal that does not lock into position. At first use, this can really throw you off as you sit there hitting the turning signal down hoping that it’ll lock – until, of course, you realize that the signal is still on even though it hasn’t locked correctly. Now, through my many attempts to completely understand this new system, I experienced a lot of frustration. It is very likely that I may have used it incorrectly, but from my experience, it was very hit-and-miss in terms of whether the car thought you were making a turn or just merely changing lanes. I feel like I can’t be the only person that would/does feel this frustration – my opinion is that there are some things that just don’t need to be changed; this is one of them.
Ford has always been the pioneer in car safety – being the first company to ever implement seat belts into their vehicles (even though they very quickly reversed this decision.) No one can argue that they are definitely the company that carves the way in terms of safety. In some ways this is a great benefit to choosing Ford, and in other ways it puts a lot of pressure on them to be innovative; to be the leaders. I’m not naive enough to think that there aren’t drivers out there that greatly benefit from increased safety measures and automated precautions (whether those people should even be on the roads is a whole other story, ) but I do think that when you start pushing too many “think for you” features, it will either cause people to rely too much on the car to react for them, or confuse them in the event of an actual accident. I think Ford does a pretty good job trying to appeal to the majority, giving features like parallel park assist – let’s face it, who other than me actually enjoys parallel parking? But, there are certain features that almost push the boundary of being too much that it becomes confusing to react to a situation.
One feature that they’ve implemented is something that watches the distance between you and the vehicle (or object) ahead of you. Let’s say that you’re in situation where a car in front of you slams on their breaks – intuitively this should indicate to you that slowing down is your next move. The car does of the thinking for you, and in its defense it does give you some warning about the situation, especially for those of us who may not be paying attention, but in this event a red light starts blinking on the dashboard and a loud beeping begins. Now, for some people this would indicate them to react to the specific situation, but for me (given that I was nowhere near another car,) this just caused a large amount of confusion and distraction. Had there actually been an urgent situation, this may have actually caused the crash, rather than protected against it. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t help some people, but that’s just my opinion. I later realized that there was a dip in the road, and the vehicle was perhaps confused thinking that I was about to ram into another car, which instigated the beeping and warning lights. I get the innovation behind this feature, but I guess it just fires off my own warning light and gives me an uneasy feeling – my opinion is that there are certain instincts you need to have to be driving – not slamming into other vehicles happens to be one of them.
In Ford’s defense, most of the features that I didn’t like are things that can be disabled through the dashboard console. I won’t get into all the features here, but I just thought that one needed to be at least mentioned to get my point across.
This is something that I really enjoyed about the Explorer. I’m pretty sure the neighbors thought that I lost my mind as I’m pretty sure I spent over an hour playing around with the backseat and stow-away features. As you know, the Explorer is a 7-seater, and given the length of the car, you can imagine that there isn’t a ton of room left for storage; however, more than I actually expected it to have. Along with an automatic trunk, which I’m sure is a godsend for any parent, it also has the stow-and-go seating for the back row that is completely controlled by buttons in the trunk. You have 3 choices: seats up, seats flopped forward (casual storage or furniture transportation,) and full stow of the seats. The stow feature takes the seats, flips them backwards and stows them completely hidden in a compartment in the floor. I thought this was a really useful feature and was surprised to have the option – I assumed that the forward folding seats would be your only option. The other nice thing about the stow feature, is when the seats aren’t stowed away, the hole in the floor is still accessible – this allows for storage of taller items, or keep items from rolling around the back of the trunk. I found this to be actually quite useful. I can imagine an unlimited amount of usage that a parent would get from something like this.
I have my complaints, which isn’t really abnormal for me. Most of my complaints, with the exception of the media console, can be rectified by simply turning the feature off, which gives Ford a thumbs-up in my books. I actually had a really good time driving the Explorer. I don’t typically enjoy large vehicles, I find them hard to drive and especially hard to park; however, none of these things affected my experience with the Explorer. It seems that Ford has found a really good balance between giving you what you’d need in the a full-sized SUV, but allowing you the feeling of driving a much smaller crossover-style vehicle. My kudos definitely goes out to Ford on a much-improved Explorer – I look forward to what innovations they come up with next.