Skip advert
Advertisement

New Ford Explorer ride review: first impressions of the crucial Blue Oval SUV

First impressions are good for Ford’s stylish new electric crossover, a model that’s absolutely crucial for the future of Ford

Ford is a company that’s undergoing a period of extreme change. Iconic nameplates like Fiesta and Mondeo have been taken away, with the Focus next on the chopping block. Instead, electrification, SUVs and the profitable light commercial vehicle parts of the business are now at centre-stage. The new all-electric Ford Explorer is at the crux of Ford’s new focus (no pun intended), and represents the aims and ambitions of a brand that’s been consistently at or near the top of UK sales charts for the best part of 50 years. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

This new mid-size Explorer was revealed a fair while back now, but last year the company took the tough decision to delay the project in order to ensure the latest battery technology could be used. As such, we have only just been given a deep dive into the specifications that will define the Explorer at launch and when it finally arrives on sale in the third quarter of this year. 

The Ford Explorer will initially be available with two battery and drive options, with a core single-motor rear drive model featuring a 77kWh battery pack with 282bhp. Range for this model is the highest of all Explorers, and has been WLTP rated at 373 miles. It’ll have a peak charging rate of 135kW, which will recharge the battery from 10 to 80 per cent in around 28 minutes. 

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Above this will sit a dual-motor option with a marginally larger 79kWh battery pack and a 335bhp power figure. This model will be rated at 350 miles, and comes with a far more powerful 185kW DC charging rate that will go from 10 to 80 per cent in 26 minutes. Eventually, Ford will launch an entry-level 52kWh model with 166bhp, which will be available towards the end of this year. All Ford Explorer models are also optimised to suit an 11kW wall-box charger at home, which will be able to recharge around 40 miles per hour. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

Ford’s now gone into detail about the Explorer’s equipment levels, launching two trim lines that are both comprehensively specified. All models will pick up the 14.6-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen interface which is movable and reveals a small lockable locker behind. Powered front seats with heating, memory and massage functions are also a highlighted standard inclusion along with the 19-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control and a rear ski hatch. 

Premium models then add larger 20-inch wheels, a panoramic glass roof, faux-leather seats, a powered tailgate, more comprehensive ambient lighting and Matrix LED headlights. Inherently, all Explorers share the same exterior design, wheels excepted, including a clever window motif inspired by previous generation Explorer models that have sporadically been available in Europe over the years. Prices in the UK have yet to be firmly established, but the 77kWh RWD model will start at under £40,000.

Ford Explorer ride review 

We were given an early ride in the rear-drive 77kWh model and found the initial refinement and interior ambience to be very impressive. Despite sharing much of its package with the Volkswagen ID.4, the new Explorer’s interior felt much more substantial with lots of clever little details and cubbies to hold day-to-day items. The large digital interface is clear and easy to use, but it doesn’t have much in the way of physical controls for elements like the volume or temperature. In fact, the volume is governed by a somewhat oddly placed slider on the lower centre console, although the driver does have a secondary control on the steering wheel. 

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Material quality is a little varied, with the dash-top and door cards both being hard to the touch, but their placement is mostly out of the way and softer, plusher materials are used in the right places such as the console and lower dash. The cabin’s ambience is also helped by the clever B&O soundbar that’s placed across the top of the dash. As well as acting as a speaker, it also introduces a soft textured element to an otherwise fairly minimalist interior. The coloured ambient lighting is another nice touch and makes the soundbar appear to float in certain lights. 

Outward visibility looks good, especially thanks to the large rear quarter windows. The long flat bonnet is also easily visible from the driver’s seat, making the car easy to place. Physically, the Explorer is only marginally longer than an outgoing Ford Focus, and thanks to a comprehensive set of parking cameras should be a piece-of-cake to pilot into awkward parking spaces. 

On the move, what’s immediately obvious is the impressive refinement at low speeds. Motor whine is almost completely absent, and thanks to what feels like good suspension isolation from the body. The ride itself also seemed well damped and nicely compliant on the streets above Nice, France. The oblong steering wheel might initially challenge some drivers, but having experienced the same shape on the new Ford Transit, we found it to be perfectly intuitive, while also making getting in and out easier due to the flat bottom. 

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

We still have a lot more to find out when we drive the Ford Explorer in the next couple of months, ahead of the first UK deliveries which will be due in the third quarter of this year. As the beginning of a new era of Ford’s European line up, this is a big moment for a brand that is searching for some soul in the post Fiesta and Focus era. On this early account, it might not have that much to worry about. 

Martin Sander Q&A 

We talk to Ford general manager passenger vehicles, Marting Sander about the new Explorer

Why is the Explorer such a significant car for Ford of Europe?

“This is our first electric vehicle that’s been designed in Europe for Europe, and will be the first in a range of electric vehicles we are launching that are different from those we built in the past. These are true to the brand and derived from our global icons. 

This is why we made the choice to revive the Explorer, obviously based on the American icon, to create a much more distinct and emotional flavour that sits on the back of what Ford really stands for. To tell a story that only we can tell”

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Talk us through your collaboration with Volkswagen:

“I think our engineers did a fantastic job to create a distinct Ford product on the basis of technology we’re getting from Volkswagen. The exterior design is clearly distinct, clearly Explorer. When you sit inside we have the large vertical screen, the same user interface from our Mustang Mach-E, but also the driving experience. We were known for sporty and dynamic driving and you’ll find the same in the Explorer.”

Your OEM partner has been criticised for some of its software and user interface issues, how have you made sure to avoid the same mistakes?

We are in charge of the overall user experience and software. We have to make sure that we are delivering a vehicle to customers that provides the same experience we know works from our other models. I’m convinced that we have a good package and are not going to have any issues. You’re going to have the opportunity to drive it in the next couple of weeks, so you can then tell us if we’re right.”

How have you ensured the Explorer drives like a Ford?

“The most important thing is the decision to do something different, not only to take the platform and build it into another vehicle. We have had the freedom to modify the platform, and work with our suppliers to ensure our car feels different and distinct.”

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

What is Ford’s strategy in Europe moving forward?

“We have two pillars. The first is the best-selling light commercial business. The Transit has been tremendously successful, and was the highest selling vehicle sold in the UK the year before last, so we will continue to grow that part of the business.” 

“And the second is emotional and distinct passenger vehicle icons. I think in the past we missed out on the opportunity. Ford as a brand and the iconic products have really delivered us the opportunity to create new products. This is why the Explorer is essentially a derivative of the American Explorer, and you’re going to see more of these vehicles true to Ford.” 

What are these future passenger vehicles and will they be exclusively electric?

“We will continue with a multi-energy strategy – the Ford Puma is very popular, and the Kuga is the highest selling plug-in hybrid in Europe – but we will also expand this with an electric Puma and maybe another surprise or two.”

“But despite what the papers are saying if you look at the numbers, electrification is still happening very quickly, it’s just not quite as quickly as everyone thought.”

The Ford Fiesta and Focus have been enormous successes in the UK, is there a plan to create a new price-leading EV model to try fill the void now they’re gone?

“I don’t want to rule it out in the future, but for now we don’t have a plan to produce a low-cost EV. The products we launch in Europe must make financial sense. You will see global products because we need global scale in order to make our future product program work.”

Is there a future for the ST and RS sub-brands in an electric age?

“Yes, of course, these are very, very strong sub-brands and we are, of course, thinking about how to transform these into future product concepts. However, there are no concrete plans that I can talk about now.”

What are the complexities to trying to sell high-emitting vehicles like the Mustang?

“Electric vehicles play an important role for us to achieve our CO2 targets so we can continue to sell combustion models that still have a very strong demand.”

Click here for our list of the best electric SUVs...

Skip advert
Advertisement
Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

Car Deal of the Day: sensational BMW M2 is a bargain at this price!
BMW M2 - front tracking
News

Car Deal of the Day: sensational BMW M2 is a bargain at this price!

Our Day of the Day for 18 April is the formidable BMW M2 performance car
18 Apr 2024
New 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe goes on sale with specs and prices announced
New Hyundai Santa Fe - front
News

New 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe goes on sale with specs and prices announced

The big, bold seven-seater starts from £46,775, and is available with full-hybrid and plug-in hybrid power
18 Apr 2024
Best small SUVs to buy 2024
Best small SUVs - header image
Best cars & vans

Best small SUVs to buy 2024

There's a huge range of small SUVs out there, so we’ve picked out the very best
19 Apr 2024