Rankings & Research

The 2017 Ford Explorer ranked #16 in Midsize SUVs. Currently the Ford Explorer has a score of 7.9 out of 10 which is based on our evaluation of 64 pieces of research and data elements using various sources.

7.9

Overall

Scorecard

Critics' Rating:

8.2

Performance:

7.6

Interior:

7.5

Safety:

9.2

Reliability:

Best Midsize SUVs

2017 Ford Explorer Review

Though it has a powerful available twin-turbocharged V6 engine, the Explorer has poor maneuverability, lackluster towing abilities, and a less spacious and comfortable interior than most rivals. Regardless of what you're looking for in the Explorer, you'll likely find a rival that does it better.

Pros & Cons

  • Powerful twin-turbocharged V6
  • Rivals' seats are roomier and more comfortable
  • Poor maneuverability

New for 2017

  • Reshuffled features and trim levels
  • SYNC 3 infotainment system replaces MyFord Touch
  • New exterior style options available

Features & Specs

7

SEATING

16-19

  CITY


22-27

  HWY

FWD, 4WD

DRIVETRAIN

280-365

HORSEPOWER

See full 2017 Ford Explorer specs ยป

Is the Ford Explorer a Good SUV?

While the Explorer satisfies much of what midsize SUV shoppers are looking for, it performs poorly in our rankings because of how much better the competition is. Though its base engine is adequate, its fuel economy is subpar for the class. Plan to tow? With a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, you won't want the Explorer for towing heavier trailers. Need seating for up to eight with a good amount of third-row space? You won't find that in the Explorer, but you will in the Honda Pilot. If you are looking for lots of cargo space, check out the Chevrolet Traverse, which offers more room. Maneuvering the Explorer can be tricky as well, since it feels very large for an SUV of its size.

Should I Buy the Ford Explorer?

With a starting price of $31,660, the Explorer is more expensive than plenty of higher ranked midsize SUVs, including the Chevy Traverse. On top of its high base price, the Explorer's below-average fuel economy and lackluster record of reliability further add to its value-challenged woes. Those looking for a spacious yet maneuverable SUV need look elsewhere. The Explorer feels big, yet it’s not actually big on the inside. Also, to get an upscale interior, you'll have to go for the upper trims, which can easily take the Explorer above the mid-$40,000 range. This isn't the case with the Honda Pilot, which showcases a high-quality interior no matter which trim you go for. In short, there are midsize SUVs available that offer more value and reliability.

Compare the Explorer, Traverse, and Pilot »

We Did the Research for You: 64 Pieces of Data Analyzed

For the most comprehensive analysis of the Explorer, we've examined 64 pieces of data, including reviews, safety scores, reliability ratings, pricing information, and fuel economy estimates. We did the research for you so you can decide if the Explorer is the best midsize SUV for your needs.

Why You Can Trust Us

At U.S. News & World Report, we help you make educated decisions. Whether you need help choosing a vehicle, college, hospital, vacation spot, or real estate, we've got your back. We've been in business for over 80 years, and we've ranked cars and trucks for nearly a decade. Unlike other car advice sites, we refuse to accept pricey gifts from automakers, and a third party handles our ads. That means we are not beholden to particular brands. What guides us is our commitment to providing the best possible buying advice.

How Much Does the Ford Explorer Cost?

The Explorer's base trim has a starting price of $31,660, which is comparable to the base prices of many class rivals, including the Honda Pilot and Jeep Grand Cherokee. However, this is lower than the Chevrolet Traverse. The Explorer's highest trim, the Platinum ($53,235), is more expensive than the top-of-the-line versions of both the Pilot and the Traverse.

Each Explorer trim comes with its own equipment group that includes a number of features. Select trims offer multiple equipment groups that range in price, with the higher-priced groups offering additional features or upgraded versions of standard features.

The base, XLT ($33,775), and Limited ($41,675) trims all come standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, but they're available with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine (for an extra $495) that gets better fuel economy. The same three trims also come standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for an extra $2,150.

If you're looking for the twin-turbo V6 engine, you'll have to opt for the Sport (starting at $45,355) or Platinum trim. Both come standard with the twin-turbo V6, and that engine isn't available in any of the lower trims.

Another notable feature that's available in all but the base trim is the dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system, which plays DVDs and has screens built into the front headrests. It'll cost you an extra $1,995, but after a long drive with kids in the back, that may seem like a bargain. However, you might find that a pair of tablets does the job just fine, and it will cost considerably less in most cases.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Ford dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Ford deals page.

Ford Explorer Versus the Competition

Which Is Better: Ford Explorer or Ford Edge?

For those looking to stay within the same stable, the Ford Edge makes an appealing alternative to the Explorer, as long as you don't need a third row. While the Explorer can fit up to seven passengers in three rows, the Edge can only fit five passengers in two rows. If you can get past that, the Edge is in many ways a better SUV than its more expensive sibling. On the performance front, the Edge is more maneuverable, with sharper handling that feels more carlike than the Explorer. Like the larger Ford, the Edge offers an array of engines. One optional engine in the Edge is actually the Explorer's standard power plant. However, the Edge weighs less than the Explorer, so it has a better power-to-weight ratio with this engine than the Explorer does. The Edge's base fuel economy is 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, which is better than the Explorer's standard V6 and its more efficient turbo-four. On the inside, both Fords are comparable in that they both use the same infotainment system. Likewise, both models offer many of the same advanced safety features, such as lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. With a starting price of $28,950, the base Edge costs $2,710 less than the base Explorer.

Which Is Better: Ford Explorer or Chevrolet Traverse?

If you find that the Explorer's cargo space is lacking, consider the Chevrolet Traverse. It stands out for its incredibly spacious interior, which has almost 35 cubic feet more total cargo space than the Explorer. In fact, the Traverse has more cargo space than almost any SUV on the market, regardless of class. The Traverse also has plenty of passenger space and seating for up to eight, which is room for one more than the Explorer. The first two rows of seats have plenty of space, and drivers will appreciate the excellent visibility. Even the third row has enough space for some adults. By comparison, the Explorer's third row is a struggle for adults to fit comfortably. High-quality materials throughout the cabin give the Traverse a more upscale feel than the Explorer. The Chevrolet Traverse is not only produced in the U.S., but it also domestically sources a vast majority of its parts. The Traverse offers much of the same standard equipment as the Explorer, at a starting price nearly $3,000 less. In many ways, the Traverse is a better choice for the midsize SUV shopper.

Which Is Better: Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot?

The Honda Pilot is one of our highest-ranking midsize SUVs, making it a better choice than the Explorer and many other midsize SUVS. Also, it was our 2016 winner for the Best 3-Row SUV for the Money and Best 3-Row SUV for Families. With its extremely quiet interior, the Pilot has the look and feel you might expect to find in a luxury SUV. With the Explorer, you'll have to upgrade to one of the upper trims to get a premium-looking interior. While the Explorer seats up to seven, the Pilot seats eight. The Pilot’s front seats are among the most comfortable in the class, and the infotainment system is intuitive, but some audio controls can be unresponsive at times. The Pilot's V6 engine delivers good power in all driving situations and gets better gas mileage than the Explorer. Speaking of price, the Pilot undercuts the Explorer by about $1,100. It also earns better predicted reliability and safety scores than the Explorer.

For an in-depth analysis, be sure to take a look at Head to Head: Honda Pilot vs. Ford Explorer.

Compare the Explorer, Edge, and Pilot »

Explorer Interior

How Many People Does the Explorer Seat?

While the 2017 Ford Explorer has standard seating for up to seven, optional second-row bucket seats with a center console take available seating down to six. You can find seating for up to eight in some of the Explorer's rivals, including the Chevrolet Traverse and the Honda Pilot.

The front seats have plenty of space, but some may find they lack support to remain comfortable on long trips. Passengers should have enough room in the second row, as the Explorer offers more space than both the Traverse and the Honda Pilot. However, the Explorer lacks the room for adults to ride comfortably in the third row, a common problem in 3-row SUVs. Notable exceptions are the Pilot and Traverse, which both provide ample space for third-row passengers.

Explorer and Car Seats

There are two sets of LATCH connectors on both second-row outboard seats. Installing rear-facing and convertible child seats in the second row is a breeze. The third row offers one more set of LATCH connectors. Installing a rear-facing car seat in the third row may be tricky because the connectors are hard to find and not clearly marked. Forward-facing convertible child seats are easier to install, regardless of which row you choose.
For more information on LATCH, check out Car Seat Safety: Do You Have the Right Vehicle?

Explorer Interior Quality

The Explorer's highest trim, the Platinum, has a distinguished cabin that sets it apart from the other trims by including a number of quality materials. However, in lower trims, the overall cabin design is uninspiring. Materials quality pales in comparison to the base models of others, like the Honda Pilot.

Explorer Cargo Space

The Explorer has some useful features in the cargo hold. At the top of the list is the available hands-free liftgate, which you can open just by waving your foot under the rear bumper when the key is in your pocket or bag. Inside, the second and third rows of seats fold completely flat, making it easy to load large items without having to play Tetris with them. Power-folding second- and third-row seats are available, so you can put the seats down with the touch of a button.

While the features are nice, the Explorer's cargo space isn't all that remarkable for a midsize SUV. It has 21 cubic feet of space with all seats in use and a maximum capacity of about 82 cubic feet. That's a good amount of space, but it pales in comparison to the available cargo space in class rivals like the Chevy Traverse and Ford Edge. With the seats up in the Explorer, you can expect to fit about three golf bags if you're preparing to tee off. Otherwise, on a trip to the airport, you can fit four checked bags and a few carry-ons as well.

Explorer Infotainment, Bluetooth, and Navigation

Perhaps the most notable change for the 2017 Explorer is that it's now available with Ford's SYNC 3 infotainment system. SYNC 3 includes a 6.5- or 8-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, and Siri Eyes Free, and it's much easier to use than the old MyFord Touch system. SYNC 3 has intuitive controls, and the touch screen is responsive to your inputs. The system responds to smartphone-style gestures, which means that smartphone users will likely find it straightforward to use.

Worried about handing your teenager the keys? Enter Ford's MyKey, which is a standard feature in the Explorer (and the Edge). It allows you to set speed and audio volume limits for the vehicle to help protect your new driver even when you’re not with them. The Chevrolet Traverse offers a similar driver management system called Teen Driver, but the Honda Pilot doesn't offer anything of the sort.

As more and more 2017 Explorers hit the showroom, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will become a part of the SYNC3 setup. Until then, only Siri Eyes Free is available. When updated models roll out, Android and iPhone users will be able to pull up many of their phone's apps on the Explorer's touch-screen display.

For more information, read What Is Apple CarPlay? and What Is Android Auto? Then, see the Best Cars With Apple CarPlay and Best Cars With Android Auto.

Read more about interior »

Explorer Performance

Explorer Engine: Third Engine Is the Charm

The Explorer comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, but a turbocharged four-cylinder and a twin-turbocharged V6 are available. There is also an optional 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is more efficient. However, the four-cylinder feels notably less powerful than the larger engines. In upper trims, the twin-turbo V6 produces enough horsepower to rival some competitors' V8 engines, and it delivers the best power and acceleration of the three.

In comparison, the Honda Pilot offers a V6 engine that produces plenty of power for most driving situations. Unlike the Explorer, it doesn’t offer any other engines. The same is true of the Chevrolet Traverse, which has a less powerful engine than the Pilot.

Explorer Gas Mileage: Still a Gas Guzzler

The base engine offers decent power but gets subpar gas mileage for the class, offering just 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway (and 1 mpg less in the city and on the highway in all-wheel-drive models). The turbo-four gets the best fuel economy of the bunch, earning an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. With the base and XLT trims, the turbo-four is a $495 upgrade, but it saves only $150 per year in fuel costs. That means it will take you just over three years to make up for the initial price difference. With the turbo-four engine and all-wheel drive, the Explorer returns 18/25 mpg city/highway.

For fuel economy that tops the Explorer’s, check out the Mazda CX-9, which achieves 22/28 mpg city/highway. The Honda Pilot offers the same fuel economy as the Explorer's four-cylinder engine: 19/27 mpg city/highway.

Explorer Ride and Handling: Made for the Highway

The Explorer has a smooth and quiet ride. However, ride quality suffers a little with the available 20-inch wheels, though it's generally comfortable over most paved surfaces.

Although handling is secure, the most obvious weakness when driving the Explorer is the lack of maneuverability. You can't help but be constantly aware of the vehicle's size, especially when trying to drive in a tight space like a parking garage. Compared to the Explorer, the Chevy Traverse feels more maneuverable and carlike.

Explorer Off-Road Performance

Though the Explorer isn't as off-road-ready as some of its rivals – namely the Jeep Grand Cherokee – it can still handle some veer off the pavement when you need it to. All-wheel drive is available, and a terrain management system allows you to choose from four driving modes: Normal, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Grass/Gravel/Snow.

To learn more about the differences between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, read All-Wheel Drive or Four-Wheel Drive: Which Is Right for You?

Explorer Dimensions and Weight

The Explorer is about 16.5 feet long, 5.8 feet tall, and 7.5 feet wide (including the sideview mirrors). The base Explorer weighs in at 4,453 pounds, and the upper trims with all-wheel drive weigh up to 4,901 pounds.

Explorer Towing Capacity

With a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, the Explorer can't handle large, heavy trailers. However, it can pull a small trailer if necessary. You'll have no problem towing a pair of jet skis or even a small boat, though you should check the weight and make sure it's a good fit for what you'll be carrying. The Honda Pilot can handle 5,000 pounds, and the Chevrolet Traverse tops out at 5,200 pounds. For more towing capacity, check out the Dodge Durango, which can tow up to 7,400 pounds.

Read more about performance »

Explorer Reliability

Is the Ford Explorer Reliable?

J.D. Power and Associates rates the Explorer at three out of five for reliability, which is about average. The Toyota 4Runner scores a 3.5, meaning it has slightly above average reliability. The Honda Pilot also receives a 3.5. 

Ford Explorer Warranty

Ford backs the Explorer with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Read more about reliability »

Explorer Safety

Explorer Crash Test Results

The 2017 Explorer earns a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Explorer earns the highest overall score of Good in three of the four areas tested. It scores Marginal for its small overlap front test, which measures how safe an occupant will be if the front corner of the vehicle collides with an object like a telephone pole, a tree, or the corner of another vehicle.

Explorer Safety Features

Like many vehicles nowadays, the Explorer comes standard with a rearview camera. It also offers a host of other driver assistance features. Front and rear parking sensors help you avoid dinging your car while parallel parking, but you may not even need them if you opt for parallel and perpendicular park assist, which does most of the work for you.

There are highway aids as well, including adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, which keep your car safely in line if you divert your eyes to adjust the radio. Blind spot monitoring is another available feature that any driver can appreciate, as it makes changing lanes a safer endeavor. The Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse offer many of the same features.

For more on safety features, take a look at High Tech Safety Features That Really Save Lives.

Read more about safety »

Which Ford Explorer Model Is Right for Me?

The 2017 Ford Explorer comes in five trims: Explorer, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum. It comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. There are two available engines: a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder and a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is available.

For 2017, there are a few new exterior styling options and some changes to the features listing of select trims. Also, the SYNC 3 infotainment system is now available in place of the MyFord Touch system found in previous models. The Explorer received a refresh in 2016, but its last redesign was in 2011. As a result, this overview uses applicable reviews and research from the 2011 through 2017 model years.

For most shoppers, the XLT represents the best value. At $33,775, it costs only a couple thousand dollars more than the base model. There's a healthy dose of convenience features, like push-button start, power-adjustable front seats, and a proximity key. Also, rear parking sensors and upgraded brakes make the Explorer a bit safer. If you'd like a little extra from your Explorer, there are plenty of options packages and standalone features that step up the price incrementally. Consider them before making a nearly $8,000 leap to the Explorer Limited.

Ford Explorer Base

The Explorer's starting price is $31,660. Ford's SYNC infotainment system makes an appearance with its 4.2-inch color display, six speakers, Bluetooth, USB port, and voice recognition. Also standard is a rearview camera, a power-adjustable driver's seat, and MyKey. Two towing packages, Class II and Class III, are available as well, for $395 and $570, respectively.

Ford Explorer XLT

Upgrade to the XLT ($33,775), and you'll get a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a six-way power-adjustable passenger seat, satellite radio, rear parking sensors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a proximity key, push-button start, LED headlights and fog lights, heated sideview mirrors, upgraded brakes, and a keypad where you can enter a code to gain access to the cabin.

There are quite a few packages available for the XLT. It'll run you $2,110 for dual-zone climate control, remote start, a 10-way power-adjustable passenger seat, a hands-free foot-activated liftgate, second-row USB ports, and the SYNC 3 infotainment system, which includes a nine-speaker Sony audio system and an 8-inch touch-screen display. If you want all that, plus forward collision warning, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, and heated front seats, tack on $4,680 instead. The Cold Weather package ($650) includes heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and forward collision warning only. Another package, the XLT Technology Feature Bundle ($1,095) adds voice-activated navigation and blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert. For $695, second-row bucket seats and a center armrest are an available option to make your rear-seat passengers more comfortable, though you lose the center seat.

Ford Explorer Limited

Building on the XLT – and including many of its optionally packaged features – the Limited ($41,675) adds on quite a bit. For starters, the Limited uses a more efficient 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It also adds a healthy dose of tech, like a 180-degree front parking camera, two 4.2-inch driver information displays, SYNC 3 with an 8-inch touch-screen display, and a twelve-speaker Sony audio system. You'll get some other noteworthy convenience items, like a hands-free foot-activated liftgate, adjustable pedals with memory, remote-controlled power windows, and a power steering column. Other add-ons with the Limited are dual-zone climate control, remote start, an extra USB port, a 110-volt household power outlet, and a built-in garage door opener. Seating niceties that come with the Limited include leather upholstery, a driver's seat adjustment memory system, a 10-way power-adjustable passenger seat, heated-and-cooled front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, and power-folding third-row seats.

To add parking assist, lane departure warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and high beam assist, it'll be $3,000 extra.

Ford Explorer Sport

The Explorer Sport ($45,355) comes with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is the most powerful of the bunch. Sport models also come with all-wheel drive, a terrain management system, hill descent control, a sport-tuned suspension, and a Class III towing package. The Sport loses some of the Limited's convenience features, but you can add the following back on via a $2,965 package: power-adjustable pedals with memory, a power steering column, heated and cooled front seats, a 180-degree front parking camera, a built-in garage door opener, a driver's seat adjustment memory system, a 110-volt household power outlet, second-row USB charging ports, and a nine-speaker Sony audio system.

Ford Explorer Platinum

Building on the Limited trim, the Explorer Platinum ($53,235) comes with additional safety features: adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, park assist, lane departure warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, and inflatable safety belts for the second-row outboard positions. Other included goodies are a12-speaker Sony audio system, a Class III trailer tow package, chrome exterior accents, and leather and wood interior style finishes.

Where Is the Ford Explorer Built?

Ford is headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan, but the Ford Explorer is made in Chicago, Illinois. Although assembly of the Explorer takes place in the United States, less than 75 percent of the Explorer's parts are American, which is typical. Many car companies import parts to their assembly plants in the U.S.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Ford dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Ford deals page.

See 2017 Ford Explorer specs and trims »

The Final Call

The Ford Explorer charges on as one the best-selling SUVs on the market. Many find the Explorer's healthy dose of tech features quite appealing, including the available SYNC 3 infotainment system, which works wonderfully compared to rival systems. Under the hood, Ford supplies a capable V6 engine that's a bit on the thirsty side, but there's also the choice of two alternative engines: one for efficiency and another for power.

However, the Explorer has its shortcomings. It's not as roomy as some SUV shoppers may want, especially in the third row, where space is at a premium. Overall, the Explorer's seating isn't as comfortable on long trips as rivals like the Honda Pilot and Chevy Traverse. Poor maneuverability further adds to the Explorer's woes. All in all, you wouldn't necessarily be making the worst choice by springing for the Explorer, but with its higher-than-average base price of $31,660, you could certainly do better for less.

Don’t just take our word for it. Check out comments from some of the reviews that drive our rankings and analysis.

  • "If you're looking for something that's easy to maneuver and park, and you don't need a 3rd-row seat, a smaller SUV like the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano or Jeep Grand Cherokee makes a better choice. The Jeep also bests the Explorer both off-road and in towing (7,800 pounds vs. 5,000)." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "The 2016 Ford Explorer isn't as versatile or roomy as some other large, three-row crossover SUVs, but it is still a respectable pick in this class thanks to its high-end cabin, improved safety and driver aids and comfortable highway ride." -- Edmunds (2016)
  • "Ford didn't reinvent the wheel with this version of the Explorer, but it has focused on fixing some things that needed it - like the climate controls - and improving in areas where it could do better, like replacing the old 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Overall, it's a promising revision." -- Cars.com (2016)

Buying

Expert Advice

Class-Leading Sales: So far this year, the Ford Explorer is the best-selling midsize SUV. But the Jeep Grand Cherokee is hot on its heels, with sales trailing by just 13.7 percent. 

Higher-Than-Average Prices: A base Explorer starts at $31,660 which is about $1,000 above the class average. Be careful when climbing trim levels though, as a top tier model tips the scales at over $53,000. The top trims start below $45,000 for the majority of competitors.

Research more buying advice »
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