A week with a 2017 Ford Explorer, a handsome, comfortable and practical vehicle, sent my mind careening back years to a time when Ford’s utility vehicles were capable but crude pick-up truck spinoffs.
In particular I remember a Ford Bronco from the early 1980s that only a serious lover of the great outdoors could embrace. Essentially a re-bodied F-series pickup truck, it was big, ungainly and mostly unsuited for use as a passenger car substitute.
Fuel mileage was abysmal, the ride was pickup-truck rough, and, with its big knobby tires. the Bronco was hard to keep from wandering off-center when cruising down the road at highway speeds. In addition, its high ground clearance made it difficult to climb in and out of, and it was tough to park and no fun to maneuver in urban traffic.
However, I will concede it had a few pluses. It could tackle off-road duties without breaking a sweat, swallow a lot of cargo and tow pleasure boats and travel trailers up to 5,000 pounds or more. In short, it was a specific-use vehicle that bore little relationship to the multi-purpose 2017 Ford Explorer.
Finally, a decade or so ago, American manufacturers realized that buyers loved the SUV’s macho looks, but most really didn’t need a rugged all-terrain vehicle that was based on a pickup truck and had the ride and handling quality to match.
So, they came up with a compromise, a vehicle that pledges allegiance to both the much (unfairly) maligned minivan and a true sport-utility vehicle.
Its car-like unibody structure offers the ride and handling characteristics akin to a minivan. But, it has the command view, high ground clearance and all-wheel-drive capability of a true SUV. It is easier to get in and out of than an SUV, the all-wheel drive is a great companion in nasty winter weather and it even can handle light off-road duties.
This compromise of comfort and capability became known as a crossover, a title of indistinct meaning. I like to think of it as a “tweener.”
The always popular Ford Explorer was late to the party, shunning unibody construction until 2011, but it now is a top seller in the wildly popular crossover category.
The test vehicle was a 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum, the most luxurious and most expensive model in the Explorer lineup. It is essentially unchanged from the 2016 model, when Ford refreshed the entire Explorer lineup and added the top-of-the-line Platinum edition and its many standard luxury features.