published Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Test Drive: Explorer available with thrifty turbo engine

Kodiac Brown Metallic is a a new color for 2013 in the Ford Explorer line.
Kodiac Brown Metallic is a a new color for 2013 in the Ford Explorer line.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2013 Ford Explorer Limited

Exterior color: Kodiac Brown Metallic

Interior: Two-tone Char Black and Pecan leather

Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (turbocharged)

Horsepower: 240

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 20 mpg city

Dealer: Mountain View Ford

Price (as tested): $49,150

When I first laid eyes on this week's test car, a 2013 Ford Explorer Limited, I would have sworn it was jet black.

But as I approached the SUV, the color seemed to magically change to a luminescent deep-brown hue, the color of dark chocolate. For the record, the new color is Kodiac Brown Metallic.

Little surprises like this are the essence of the latest-generation Explorers, a venerable model that fueled the family SUV boom in the 1990s.

Now for a bigger surprise: Our test vehicle from Mountain View Ford was powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Ford calls these little beasts Ecoboost motors, and they are capable of propelling a 4,557-pound SUV like a V-6 with twice the displacement.

Doug Cawood, sales manager at Mountain View Ford, said the four-cylinder Ecoboost-equipped Explorers also squeeze about four more miles from a gallon of gas compared to Explorers with six-cylinder engines. The price premium for the turbo is about $1,000.

The rocketlike 3.5 liter, six-cylinder Ecoboost engine optional in the F-150 truck also may soon be available in a Sport version of the Explorer. Performance junkies, stay tuned.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The newest-generation Explorers were launched in the 2011 model year and have a fresh, compact design that is wearing well two years later.

Our tester came in top-of-the-line Limited trim with optional 20-inch chrome wheels and attractive exterior brightwork, including chrome door handles and aluminum roof rails.

Although roomy inside, the exterior of the Explorer appears smaller because of short front and rear overhangs. The hood has two power humps, which give it a ripped look.

Inside, our Explorer was tastefully equipped with two-tone leather perforated seat covers (Char Black and Pecan). Seats in the second and third row fold flat to provide up to 80.7 cubic feet of storage space. Our test Explorer came with a PowerFold third-row seat, which makes up and down functions a one-touch proposition.

Other premium features on our test Explorer included a voice-activated navigation system, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, a blind spot monitor and inflatable seat belts (a new safety feature).

Ford's well-reviewed Sync phone interface and MyFord Touch communications and entertainment system are first rate. Our Explorer was equipped with a 12-speaker Sony audio system boasting 390 watts of power.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The Explorer, at over two tons, is a heavy vehicle, and so performance handling is not part of the deal. (For that, move down in size to the excellent new Ford Escape small SUV.) But the Explorer is fairly easy to maneuver. It even has Ford's new parking assist feature, which makes parallel parking a breeze.

The 2.0 liter Ecoboost spools up in about a second and then unleashes a blast of torque that slingshots the Explorer from a dead stop. The engine seemed completely adequate on an Interstate 24 test drive. If you do a lot of seven-passenger traveling or hauling, though, moving up to the six-cylinder might be a good idea.

BOTTOM LINE

Our test vehicle came with just about every bell and whistle imaginable and stickers for $49,150. Base Explorers start at $28,870.

As always, the Explorer exemplifies solid family transportation. Ecoboost puts the SUV back in play for those who are mindful of fuel economy. Our test car would average 28 mpg highway, according to government tests.

If you last owned an Explorer 10 years ago, give it another shot. I'll bet you'll be pleasantly surprised.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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