The sixth-generation Ford Explorer continues a legacy that began with the much-loved Ford Bronco it replaced three decades ago.
A trailblazer in the now massively competitive mid-size SUV market, sales of the Explorer are approaching eight million in the US alone since 1990.
And the model, as American Pie as any of Ford’s nameplates, has just received a comprehensive makeover that’s lighter, leaner and stronger for 2021.
It’s safe to say that the Explorer has helped define the family crossover as we know it, and this redesign puts it up against the likes of the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade and VW Teramont, and stretches the definition of “mid-size” given its larger proportions.
The new Explorer features a more sloping roofline with a shorter front overhang that gives it a sportier, athletic stance, yet retains the familiar profile comprising blacked-out A-pillars and D-pillars with body-coloured C-pillars that are thick and angled rearward. It sits on smart-looking 20-inch alloy wheels and has new front and rear fascias with slimline headlights and more distinctive, curvier sheet metal.
The Limited model tested here sits above the XLT and below the Platinum, and while it uses a new rear-wheel drive platform, it comes standard in the UAE market with all-wheel drive, and features much of the connectivity and safety features that are on most buyers' wish lists.
Able to tow 2.4 tonnes when equipped with the towing package, perhaps the most surprising feature of the Explorer is its very willing and capable four-cylinder engine.
Ford has performed miracles with its EcoBoost series of engines, being able to deliver power and economy that enables its vehicles to drop an engine size. And so it is with this 2.3-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder that sits in a market crowded with V6, hybrid and turbo V6 models.
The engine sits well back in the engine bay to keep the weight centred, which adds to its positive steering feel. It produces 300 horsepower and 420Nm of torque – that’s more than the outgoing Explorer on both counts – and is backed by a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The four-wheel drive system includes a terrain management function that features eight selectable drive modes comprising normal, trail, deep snow, slippery, sport, tow/haul and a new eco mode.
Accessed by a dial in the centre console, it also has a very welcome sand mode that was first introduced on the Expedition and has been developed specifically for the Middle East.
Performance is sprightly given its size, and yet it returns impressive fuel economy, all the while offering up to 2,486 litres of stowage room with the rear seats folded flat thanks to a flat floor in the cargo area.
There’s an extra 123 litres of stowage split throughout the cabin in small bins and cup holders across all three rows in what is a functional, yet comfortable cabin.
Accessing the rear from the outside with a handful of groceries or strollers is now no longer an issue either, with a foot-operated, powered lift gate that makes the process hands-free.
Climbing into the far back is easier with a new power-operated function for third row access that slides the second row seat out of the way with the touch of a button.
Once back there, though, older, taller kids and adults may find that it sits too low to be comfortable for a length of time, but is great for the little ones.
Isofix anchor points have been modified to allow for child seats to be installed anywhere in the second and third rows, which may seal the deal for young families as some of its competitors only offer Isofix for one or two of the seat placements, while the second row also has retractable sun shades on the windows.
Up front, there’s an eight-inch digital touchscreen for navigation that uses the same capacitive glass seen on smartphones and tablets, and is compatible with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Phones, meanwhile, can be charged wirelessly using Ford’s Sync3 system.
There are four USB ports including new type-C outlets, five, 12-volt points and a 230-volt outlet that, together, cover just about every charging demand.
Other interior features include a 980-watt, 12-speaker B&O premium audio system, a gigantic full-length sunroof, a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel, and adaptive cruise control that automatically slows the vehicle when traffic ahead slows and helps keep the car in its lane.
Other safety features are grouped into a bundle Ford calls Co-pilot 360, and are fitted as standard. This includes pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, dynamic brake support, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, a lane-keeping system, a rear view camera with built-in lens cleaner and auto-on headlamps with auto high-beam.
If that doesn’t tick all the boxes, an option called Co-pilot 360 Plus is also available that adds evasive steering assist, which provides steering support to help avoid a collision; and post-impact braking, which keeps the brakes applied after a collision when most people lift off in shock from the accident. This not only helps to reduce further injury, but also damage caused by a potential second crash.
For under Dh200,000, the Ford Explorer Limited offers a lot of kit for the price in a roomy, comfortable and safe package.