2018 Ford Explorer – In Depth Review

Way back in 1990, Ford unveiled a vehicle that continues to define the midsize SUV – the Ford Explorer. Now, with cut-throat competition, the 2018 Ford Explorer is fighting to win the segment it pioneered. It’s well-armed to fight with best in class cargo space, spacious and hushed cabin riding on plush suspension, and lunar rover rivaling off-road capability with optional 4WD.

On infotainment front, you can have the Explorer with SYNC 3 having an 8-inch touchscreen (lower trim gets 4.2-inch SYNC). Be willing to pay and ford has 12 speaker Sony audio system, second row USB, dual zone climate control and more. Safety tech like automatic braking, lane departure warning, and even inflatable seat belt are on table.

Engine choice range from the base (and unimpressive) 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6 and efficient 2.3 EcoBoost I4 to satisfactorily efficient and abundantly powerful 3.5 L EcoBoost. All the powerhouses are mated to a rather dated 6-Speed Automatic. Four-wheel drive is available even in base trim if you really want to explore.

Things we like

  • Spacious cabin
  • Generous cargo capacity with third row folded
  • Excellent terrain management system
  • Ecoboost V6 delivers V8 power

Things we don’t like

  • Iffy build quality
  • Large size makes it difficult to maneuver in city
  • Ecoboost V6 delivers V8 economy

What’s new for 2018 Ford Explorer

  • Cosmetic changes to front grille and new color options
  • New safe and smart package combine a bunch if active safety features
  • 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot is a new option

2018 Ford Explorer Pricing and Options

The Explorer comes in 5 trims and three engine options. 4 wheel drive is available on all trims. The starting price is $31,990 for the base explorer that gets you base spec 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6, fabric seats, and old school SYNC infotainment. The top of the line has a hefty $53,940 price tag and has Lincoln rivaling luxury with interior draped in real wood and leather.

Trims Explorer XLT Limited Sport Platinum
MSRP $31,990 $34,020 $42,090 $45,950 $53,940
Features ·         Led Tail Lamps

·         Brighter than conventional lightbulb.

·         18” five spoke painted.

·         Privacy glass,second and third row

·         Led signatured Lighting

·         Intelligent access

·         With push button start

·         Reverse sensing system


·         Heated steering wheels

·         3rd Row power fold 50/50 split-folding bench seat.

·         Ambient lighting

·         3.5l Eco boost

·         Intelligent 4wd

·         Quad chrome exhaust tips.

·         Premium Sound from Sony with clear phase and live acoustics

·         Lighted front scuff plates

·         Platinum brandeed floor mats

Too many to choose from? We help you find the best trim

We think the ford explorer in limited trim gives the most bang for the buck as it has the efficient and powerful 2.3 L EcoBoost engine. It also gets the much-improved SYNC 3 infotainment system, a very special ambient lighting and host of other feel-good amenities.

2018 Ford Explorer Driving and Performance

The Ford Explorer gets a range of engine to suit your needs but there is only one 6 speed automatic on offer. Four-wheel drive is available even in base trim and the optional terrain management system makes off-roading a breeze. The Explorer has plush ride quality and the suspension can handle body motions well.

The steering is predictable and tuned towards providing safe rather than engaging driving characteristics – good traits for a family SUV. Those searching for fun from a 7 seat crossover can take a look at the Mazda CX-9. Be warned that the Mazda’s irresistible looks can woo you away from more practical Explorer.

“Unlike other models dubbed “Sport,” the 2017 Explorer Sport is indeed sporty, thanks to its turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, stiffer suspension tuning, quicker steering and our test vehicle’s optional summer performance tires. The result is lots of speed and impressive handling and braking.” – Edmunds

Engines and Transmission

The explorer gets three engines to suit your requirement. The base 3.5 Liter naturally aspirated engine is a low-cost alternative that delivers more towing capacity (5000 pounds with trailer tow class 3 package) than the more expensive EcoBoost I4 (3500 pounds). However, it feels less energetic than the 2.3 L EcoBoost owing to almost 50 pounds-feet less torque and compromises on efficiency too (2 mpg less).

If 3500 pounds towing capacity is sufficient (and if are willing to pay), get the EcoBoost I4 as it delivers zippy daily performance and is most efficient in the lineup. It’s optional in base and XLT trim and standard on the limited trim.

However, if you want to pin your wife and children to those well-cushioned seats, the throaty 3.5 L EcoBoost is on offer. It will scoot all of you from standstill to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. It’s optional on limited trim and standard on Sport and Platinum trim. Ford offers only a 6-Speed Automatic on all engines in 2018 explorer. It’s smooth and fast at shuffling gears.

Models Ford explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX 9 Santa Fe
MSRP $319,90 $ 309,00 $ 315,20 $ 298,50
Engine 3.5l





Inline 4



Fuel type Flex-fuel Gas gas Gas
Transmission Automatic Automatic Automatic Automatic
Power 290 hp @ 6500 rpm 280 hp @ 6000 rpm 227 hp @ 5000 rpm 290 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque 255 ft-lbs. @ 4000 rpm 262 ft-lbs. @ 4700 rpm 310 ft-lbs. @ 2000 rpm 252 ft-lbs. @ 5200 rpm


The explorer with the 3.5 L EcoBoost is the fastest SUV in this comparison. The closest competitor is the Honda pilot that trails the explorer by 0.3 seconds taking 6.1 seconds to do 0-60 mph dash. The Mazda cx-9 and the Hyundai Santa Fe trails these leaders by almost a second.

“A straightforward 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V6 is still the base engine. More entertaining is this twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 with 365-horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque. ” – Motorweek

Models Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX 9 Santa Fe
0-60 MPH 5.8 sec 6.1 sec 7.1 sec 7.3 sec
Quarter mile 14.4 sec 14.7 sec 15.5 sec 15.8 sec
Engine 3.5 L Ecoboost V6 3.5l 2.5l 3.3l

Tons/yr of CO2 Emissions @ 15K mi/year

9.8 (Est) 8.0 7.6 (Est) na

Ride and Handling

The explorer suspensions are adept at the job of transporting all your family in comfort. They offer cushioned ride quality even through not so friendly terrain – familiar territory for the explorer. High-speed ride quality is composed too with no nervous body movement – necessary trait on those long highway drives to the outback.

Engaging handling and fun to drive characteristics are down on the explorer`s list of priority. Effortless, safe and family friendly characteristics are high on list – good thing for a family crossover. The SUV can handle sudden change in direction with aplomb so you can rely on it to save you from hairy situations.

However, it’s lacking in one area where it really shouldn’t. Most people are expected to drive it in town and this Ford SUV is cumbersome in tight situations being heaviest and lengthiest among the competition.

“Unlike other models dubbed “Sport,” the 2017 Explorer Sport is indeed sporty, thanks to its turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, stiffer suspension tuning, quicker steering and our test vehicle’s optional summer performance tires. The result is lots of speed and impressive handling and braking.” – Edmunds


The Ford Explorer has a soft brake but the braking performance is impressive – 70 to 0 mph in 174 feet – among best in class. This is impressive considering the Explorer weighs almost 600 pounds more than the next heaviest competitor and features equal size rotors.

“The Explorer’s brake pedal is on the softer side, but its 174-foot stopping distance proved fully competitive among three-row crossovers.” – Car and Driver

Model Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX 9 Santa Fe
Brake pads-front(in) 12.6 12.6 12.6 12.6
Brake pads Rear(in) 12.8 13 12.8 11.9
Curb weight(lbs.) 4901 4288 4361 4198
70-0 MPH (ft.) 174 198 177 168

Hauling and towing capacity

The Ford Explorer tow capacity is 5000 pounds when properly equipped. By properly equipped, we mean you must have the base 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6 or the 3.5 L EcoBoost V6 and you must get the optional Trailer Tow Class 3 package.

The Trailer Tow Class 3 package includes a class 3 frame-mounted hitch, four and seven terminal trailer connectors and engine oil cooler. The Explorer 2.3 L EcoBoost can tow up to 3500 pounds. All other competitor except the Mazda CX-9 can also tow 5000 pounds when equipped properly. The Mazda CX-9 can only tow up to 3000 pounds.

“Electronic trailer sway control and a Class III trailer tow package come standard on the Explorer Sport. Both the base V6 and this EcoBoost V6 are rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost at 3,000 pounds.” – Edmunds

Vehicle Engine and transmission Towing Capacity
Ford Explorer 3.5 L V6 or 3.5 L EcoBoost V6, FWD 5,000 Lbs.
Honda Pilot 3.5 L V6, FWD 5,000 Lbs.
Mazda CX-9 2.5 L Turbo I4, FWD 3,500 Lbs.
Hyundai Santa Fe 3.3 L V6, FWD 5,000 Lbs.

2018 Ford Explorer Fuel Efficiency

The ford explorer is certainly not the most fuel-efficient midsize SUV. The EcoBoost with base 3.5 naturally aspirated V6 delivers 16 mpg in city and 22 on the highway for a combined EPA rating of 19 mpg. Interestingly, the much throatier 3.5 L EcoBoost V6 delivers just 1 mpg less in the city and 2 mpg less on the highway even with AWD.

Model 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6 2.3 L I4 3.5 L Twin Turbo Ecoboost V6 AWD
Mpg city 17 19 16
Mpg highway 24 27 22
Mpg combined 20 22 19

The Most efficient explorer delivers 19 mpg in city and 27 mpg on the highway for a combined EPA rating of 22 mpg. For comparison, the most efficient competitor here is Mazda CX-9 delivering 20 mpg in city and 26 on the highway for a combined EPA rating of 23 mpg.

“The Explorer’s fuel economy is unimpressive. The optional turbocharged four-cylinder delivers fuel economy that is no better than its rival four-cylinders, although, to its credit, it does pump out far more power. ” – Car and Driver”

Model Ford Explorer 3.5 L naturally aspirated V6 Honda Pilot 3.5 L V6 Mazda CX-9 2.5 L Turbo I4 Santa Fe 3.3 L V6
Mpg city mpg 16 18 20 17
Mpg highway mpg 24 26 26 22
Mpg combine mpg 20 21 23 19

2018 Ford Explorer Interior

The ford explorer’s interior makes a good place to be in with all your family for those long trips (or mild adventures). All first and second row is spacious while the third row is little tight for adults. The cabin is superbly quiet for this class of vehicle. However, build quality leaves a lot to be desired especially when compared to the Japanese rivals like Honda pilot.

Dual zone automatic climate control is available from XLT onwards and the optional SYNC 3 takes care of the infotainment. You get leather-wrapped steering wheel in XLT and higher trims. From limited trim onwards, ambient lighting creates a beautiful airliner like night driving experience.

“We’re happy that Ford has moved to using actual buttons for most controls, and also like the looks of the digital screen integrated into the gauges.” – Kelly Blue Book

Interior Feature Standard/Optional
Tilting and telescopic steering column Standard
Heated steering wheel Optional
Memory driver’s seat Optional
Power driver’s seat Standard
Heated Front Seats Optional
Cooled Front seats Optional
Rear-Seat Entertainment Optional

Seating and Comfort

The 2018 ford explorer has a good driving position with the adjustable armrest to accommodate a wide range of body sizes. Front visibility is great but the rear visibility could be better. Features like the heated steering wheel are available in XLT trim too.

However, the explorer will coax you to get the higher trims to have the same level of appointments as the competitors. For example, twin panel moon-roof is only optional in the limited trim. If you do choose to spend, however, you get luxury car rivaling features like the special feeling ambient lighting, universal garage door opener and others.

“Now, there seems to be no limit to how far manufacturers will go to add poshness to utilities, nor buyers’ appetites for same. So, Ford brings the Platinum series to the Explorer.  It features real wood and aluminum trim, as well as premium Sony sound and quilted leather.” – Motorweek

Space matters!

The explorer can seat seven people with rear bench seats. However, third-row access is compromised with bench seats. Getting captains chair makes the second row far more comfortable while also allowing an easy third-row access. But captains chair equipped explorer can seat only six peoples.

Model Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX 9 Santa Fe
Passenger capacity 7 8 7 7
Passenger Volume(ft cube) 151.7 151.7 153.1 146.6
Front (Head/Hip/Shoulder/Leg)



41.4/57.3/61.5/42.9 39.5/59.1/62/40.9 39.3/56.7/57.9/41 39.9/56.7/59.4/41.3
Second (Head/Hip/Shoulder/Leg)



40.6/56.8/61/39.5 39.9/57.3/62/38.4 38.5/57.4/58.1/39.4 39.4/55.4/58.3/40.4
Third (Head/Hip/Shoulder/Leg)



37.8/40.7/50.8/32 38.9/44.9/57.6/31.9 35.4/40.1/53.1/29.7 35.7/44.1/53.9/30.9

The Explorer has generous cargo space with all seats up – 21 cubic feet. The closest competitor is Honda Pilot with 17 cubic feet – not close at all. This means the Explorer is one of few midsize SUVs that can accommodate all your family along with their luggage too when you go exploring. The luggage space continues to dominate competitors as the seats are folded one by one.

“Being one of the larger 3-row crossovers means that cargo space fairs well at 21.0 cubic-ft. behind the 3rd row, 43.9 behind the 2nd row, and maxing out at 81.7 cubic-ft. A hands free lift gate is available with XLT and Sport trim; standard on Limited and Platinum. ” – Motorweek

Car Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX-9 Santa Fe
All Seats Up 21 cubic feet 17 cubic feet 14 cubic feet 14 cubic feet
Last Row Folded 58 cubic feet 47 cubic feet 38 cubic feet 41 cubic feet
Second and Third Rows Folded 99 cubic feet 84 cubic feet 71 cubic feet 80 cubic feet

How about some entertainment on the go? (Infotainment System)

The Base Ford explorer and the explorer XLT now gets the dated SYNC infotainment system with 4.2-inch touchscreen. Sirius XM Satellite radio is optional. For the new SYNC 3 with an 8-inch touchscreen, you have to upgrade to the limited trim. The Sync 3 is responsive and has a crisp display and intuitive UI.

The Explorer gets pleasantly old-school physical buttons for most of the controls – a respite as others are increasingly moving all the controls to the touchscreen. Audiophiles are catered to with 12 speaker Sony audio system from limited trim onwards.

“We’ve found the optional Sync 3 infotainment system to be intuitive and fairly snappy in its performance. Most every connectivity feature is offered on the Explorer, but unfortunately very few are standard.” – Car and Driver

2018 Ford Explorer Exterior

The explorer has an overall boxy silhouette among the more swoopy and curvy competitors. Tall stance, bold lines, LED lights and hood badging makes it look similar to the land rover discovery.     For those preferring look at me details, the sports and platinum trim gets a loud chrome-tipped quad exhaust (all other trims get dual exhaust).

“The standard LED low-beam headlights, grille and bumper in front give this mainstream SUV a first-glance resemblance to a Land Rover Range Rover, pretty good company we’d say, although the lower part of the bumper looks too heavy.” – Kelley Blue Book

Exterior Feature Standard/Optional
LED tail lights Standard
LED head lights Standard
Twin Exhaust Standard
Quad Exhaust Optional
Heated Rear View Mirror Optional
Auto Dimming rear view mirror Optional
Moon Rood Optional

Dimension and Weight

The explorer is among the lengthiest vehicle in its class and it looks substantial. However, this “substance” comes at a cost of in-city maneuverability. It’s also the widest and tallest to complete the big lumbering looks. However, the Mazda CX-9 has a longer wheelbase giving it stately looks

Model Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX 9 Santa Fe
Curb Weight(Lbs.) 4901 4288 4361 4198
Length(In) 198.3 194.5 199.4 193.1
Width(In) 78.9 66.3 77.5 64.1
Height(In) 70 69.8 69 66.5
Ground Clearance(In) 8.3 7.3
Wheel Base(In) 112.8 111 115.3 110.2
Track Width(In) F/R 67/67 66.3/66.3 65.3/65.2 64.1/64.5

The lower trims get 18-inch wheels while 20 inch polished aluminum alloy wheels are optional in the XLT trim and up. The sports trim gets gorgeous 20 inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets while a dark themed 20-inch wheel is optional.

Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX 9 Santa Fe
Size F/R (In.) 20*8.5/20*8.5 18*18/18*18 18*8/18*8 19*7.5/19*7.5
Quality Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum
Wheel Type Alloy Alloy Alloy Alloy

2018 Ford Explorer Safety Ratings and Reliability

The Ford Explorer gets a 5-star safety rating from NHTSA. However, it does not get Top Safety Pick from IISH scoring “marginal” in driver side small overlap crash. It scores well on all other fronts. Along with these, it has side impact beams and has curtain airbags on the first, second and third row.

“The Explorer’s solid crash-test ratings, as well as available safety features such as seatbelt airbags for passengers in the second row’s outboard seats, make it a solid safety choice.” – Car and Driver

Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX 9 Santa Fe
Advancetrac w/Roll Stability Control Electronic Stability Control (ESC) And Roll Stability Control (RSC) VSA Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Electronic Stability Control (ESC) And Roll Stability Control (RSC) Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Terrain Management System ABS And Driveline Traction Control ABS And Driveline Traction Control ABS And Driveline Traction Control ABS And Driveline Traction Control
Side Impact Beams Side Impact Beams Side Impact Beams Side Impact Beams
Dual Stage Driver And Passenger Seat-Mounted Side Airbags Dual Stage Driver And Passenger Seat-Mounted Side Airbags Dual Stage Driver And Passenger Seat-Mounted Side Airbags Dual Stage Driver And Passenger Seat-Mounted Side Airbags
Front And Rear Parking Sensors Honda LaneWatch Right Side Camera Blind Spot Monitoring Blind Spot Sensor Blue Link Emergency S.O.S
Outboard Front Lap And Shoulder Safety Belts -inc: Rear Center 3 Point, Height Adjusters and Pretensioners Outboard Front Lap And Shoulder Safety Belts -inc: Rear Center 3 Point, Height Adjusters and Pretensioners
Back-Up Camera Rear Child Safety Locks

2018 Ford Explorer Competition Check

The explorer founded the midsize SUV segment. However, there are plenty of options now and the competitor may be more suitable for your needs or budget.

Honda Pilot

The Honda Pilot is one of the most well rounded midsize SUV with well-equipped, spacious seats (even the third row) and high-quality materials. An efficient and powerful engine pulls the pilot briskly along the road. On top of that, the Pilot comes with Honda’s reputation of reliability and has great resale value too. However, the Explorer trumps the Pilot when the going gets tuff and is almost equal in many areas.

Hyundai Santa Fe

The Hyundai Santa Fe has spacious and comfortable first and second row, is loaded with features and all these are wrapped in chick looking exterior. Its costs significantly less than the explorer when evenly equipped. However, the explorer has far more luggage space and has a more spacious interior.

Mazda CX-9

The CX-9 continues the Mazda reputation of offering engaging and entertaining driving characteristics. The handsome exterior will blow you to pieces. The gorgeous interior will blow the pieces left of you to smaller pieces. However, it rides a bit on the harsher side and Mazda does not offer android auto and Apple CarPlay. The Explorer is a more practical choice.

Hyundai Santa Fe vs Honda Pilot vs Ford Explorer vs Mazda CX-9
Ford Explorer Honda Pilot Mazda CX-9 Hyundai Santa Fe
Starting MSRP $52,935 $34,330 $34,220 $33,445

MPG (city/hwy/combined)

19/27/22 20/27/23 22/28/24 18/25/21
Engine 2.3 Liter Twin Turbo I4 3.5 Liter Naturally Aspirated V6 2.5 Liter Turbocharged I4 3.3 Liter Naturally Aspirated V6
Torque 310 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm 262 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm 310 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm 252 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Power 280 bhp @ 5600 rpm 280 bhp @ 6000 rpm 250 bhp @ 5000 rpm 290 bhp @ 6400 rpm
Transmission 6-Speed Automatic 9-Speed Automatic 6-Speed Automatic 6-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive Front Wheel Drive Front Wheel Drive Front Wheel Drive

2018 Ford Explorer Final Verdict

The Ford Explorer was the king of the midsize segment. It still has a lot going for it like a spacious cabin, supple ride quality, eerily silent interiors and powerful engines. The optional 4 wheel-drive and terrain management system ensures it still the king of the jungle.

However, this king of the jungle gets tamed in the city with its ponderous body – especially against the onslaught of modern Japanese rivals. The rivals also pack the same goodies for a lower cost and can tow as much as the explorer.

But again, the explorer is set in hearts of many Americans and it can do whatever you ask it to do almost as good as or better than the rivals. The hefty body is the very reason some love the explorer. All in all, if you like the explorer and are ready to pay more than you will pay for a similarly equipped competitor, get it.

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