New Ford Explorer hits a pothole
Photo credit: FORD
- 2012 European Automakers: Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Volkswagen
- 2012 Chrysler-Fiat Future Product
- 2012 Japanese Automakers: Infiniti, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Suzuki
- 2012 Ford Product Plans
- 2012 Korean and Chinese Automakers Future Product
- 2012 European Automakers: Aston Martin, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Rolls-Royce, Smart, Volvo
- 2012 Japanese Automakers Product Plans: Acura, Honda, Lexus, Scion, Toyota
- 2012 GM Product Plans
U.S. consumers can't seem to get enough of the new Explorer. It is the fastest-turning vehicle in Ford showrooms these days.
But Consumer Reports -- one of America's favorite shopping guides -- isn't so enamored of Ford's latest crossover.
In its latest issue, on sale this week, the magazine ranked the redesigned Explorer 17th among 19 similar vehicles tested.
In fact, the new Explorer placed just ahead of the Ford Edge and Nissan Pathfinder -- two models the magazine says scored too low when road tested earlier to be recommended.
Ouch. For a company reveling in recent product successes and quality advances, that has to sting.
Ford spent years and millions of dollars to overhaul and transform the Explorer into a car-based SUV. And for good reason: It is one of Ford's most vaunted nameplates and a one-time cornerstone of the automaker's profit machine -- perhaps second only to the F-series pickup.
The new Explorer is far more advanced and polished than the truck-based Explorer SUV that once generated annual U.S. sales in excess of 400,000 units and dominated the segment for years.
And as Consumer Reports noted, the slimmed-down Explorer now achieves 18 mpg overall -- a notable improvement over 15 mpg on the previous model.
David Phillips is deputy managing editor of Automotive News online.
The magazine says the new Explorer has its good points, including "a roomy, practical interior, a third-row seat that's actually usable, and generous cargo capacity. It also has a steady and compliant ride and respectable fuel economy." The brakes are good, too.
But the Explorer falls short of the best in its competitive class for several notable reasons.
"The engine is a little noisy, handling is secure but lacks agility, and the driving position is flawed," the magazine says.
"The optional 'MyFord Touch' control interface is over-complicated and distracting," the magazine says, echoing ongoing complaints about Ford's family of in-vehicle communications systems.
But there's more.
"The six-speed automatic is not the smoothest out there and wants to hold on to higher gears too long. It was sometimes slow to downshift and overly aggressive engine braking slowed the Explorer going down hills unless we gave the gas pedal a prod.
"An optional Terrain Management system for the all-wheel-drive system lets you dial in various terrain types such as snow and sand, and it alters throttle, brake and torque split between front and rear wheels accordingly."
Finally, the latest Explorer is too new to be recommended, the magazine says.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Ford Flex, Acura MDX, and Volkswagen Touareg TDI top the magazine's rankings of mid-sized SUVs. The Hyundai Veracruz, Subaru Tribeca, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9 also rank higher than the Explorer.
"We're very proud of the new Explorer," Ford spokesman Said Deep said. "We take all feedback -- including Consumer Reports'-- seriously and will use it as we continuously improve all of our vehicles."
Demand for the new Explorer, Ford notes, has more than doubled compared with demand for the previous generation, even as rising gasoline prices prompt consumers to go small.
Moreover, 43.5 percent of buyers are abandoning competitive models to purchase the new Explorer. And nearly 12 percent of Explorer buyers are leaving a luxury vehicle to get behind the new Explorer, Ford says.
But how do you undergo a major makeover and still score near the bottom of the pack right out of the gate?
You can reach David Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.