Now in the third model year of a major makeover, the 2013 Ford Explorer is one more example of how the evolution from truck-based sport-utility vehicles to more comfortable, car-based crossovers is by far the better solution for the average motorist.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on the rugged, go-anywhere SUV. It’s just that I consider it a specialty vehicle. It makes a lot of sense for the seriously active lifestyle set — hunters and fisherman, off-road adventurers, families that love boating, camping and wilderness hiking, etc., etc.
For the rest of us, whose requirements might range from hauling kids and toting groceries to the occasional trip to the big-box home-improvement center and the annual vacation, what we require is space, comfort, and at least a modicum of luxury.
What we get with the 2013 Ford Explorer is a world apart from what I recall of former Ford SUVs.
My first encounter with one was back in the 80s when a full-size Bronco arrived for my inspection. It was a brute in the outback, ready to take on seriously challenging terrain. The only thing the test vehicle was missing was a gun rack, a hunting dog and, maybe, a case of beer.
But, its on-road behavior was an abomination. The steering was loose, causing the big truck to wander on the interstates, it bucked and snorted over even minor road imperfections, gas mileage was miserable and stopping in a hurry could be a hair-raising experience.
Later, in the 90s, I spent time cruising around in right-sized, more sensible and wildly popular Ford Explorers. With each model upgrade, they made more and more practical sense and offered more luxury features, but it never was possible to engineer away their pickup-truck roots.
I’ll admit that the Ford Expedition is a comfortable, luxurious vehicle, but it is huge. It can be a menace in a mall parking lot and who knows what the kids are doing way back in the third row.
Now we come to the totally rethought, re-engineeered and refocused Ford Explorer. Built on a front-wheel-drive platform common to the Ford Taurus and several other corporate unibody models, it retains the command view that SUV lovers crave, yet it has much improved driving dynamics, a comfortable ride and a generous amount of cargo space.
On top of that, an available four-wheel-drive system can get most owners through the ravages of winter and, with 7.6 inches of ground clearance, can even take some of them off road with confidence under many conditions.
The Explorer presented for my examination was a six-passenger four-wheel-drive 2013 Ford Explorer Limited, an acceptably powerful tall wagon with a long list of luxury amenities and a hefty price tag of $46,860.
However, don’t recoil at the price immediately. Buyers who want a sensibly equipped version of the new Explorer without all the glitz and glamour will find a base price of under $30,000.