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#16

in 2012 Affordable Midsize SUVs

Avg. Price Paid: $22,363 - $32,093
Original MSRP: $28,280 - $39,855
MPG: 18 City / 25 Hwy
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2012 Ford Explorer Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

Reviewers are satisfied with the Ford Explorer’s V6 engine, but many complain about the new four-cylinder Ecoboost engine. They say it’s lethargic, and when they consider its poor performance comes with less towing capacity, some test drivers say they would have a hard time paying extra for this option. Otherwise, journalists write that the 2012 Explorer’s handling is car-like and smooth, but not particularly dynamic or exciting.

  • "Power from the Variable-Valve V6 was surprisingly stout, and with the AWD, was able to move us where we needed to be." -- Left Lane News
  • "The V-6 provides excellent acceleration and the electric-power assisted steering feels well-weighted in your hands." -- The Detroit News
  • "Though the Explorer EcoBoost is a solid driver, we simply don't think the optional engine's benefits offset its taller price tag and reduced capability." -- Autoblog
  • "The portly Explorer is just a bit too much Ford for four cylinders to handle - even with a turbo." -- Car and Driver
  • "The Explorer is bad. Bad as in I can't remember driving a car as dynamically lifeless. Nor could others." -- Motor Trend

Acceleration and Power

The 2012 Ford Explorer has two engine options: a naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6 making 290 horsepower, and a turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder making 240 horsepower. Both are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and Ecoboost models offer optional paddle shifters. The Ecoboost engine is only available when paired with front-wheel drive. Buyers who need all-wheel drive will have to stick with the V6.

When paired with front-wheel drive, the V6 engine gets 18/25 mpg city/highway, and the Ecoboost gets 20/28 mpg city/highway, according to the EPA. That’s one of the highest ratings in the class. All-wheel drive V6 models get 17/23 mpg city/highway, which is about average for a three-row crossover. The Ecoboost engine costs about $1,000 extra on each model, but according to the EPA, it will take owners less than three years to make up for that extra cost in fuel savings. Reviewers don’t feel the sacrifice in power is worth the extra gas mileage, but fuel-conscious shoppers may feel differently.

Reviewers say that the V6 is plenty snappy for a family vehicle, but there’s a lot of disagreement regarding the turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Some say that it offers plenty of pep for most drivers, while some take serious issue with its less-than-brisk acceleration.

When equipped with the V6 engine, the Ford Explorer can tow up to 5,000 pounds. The Ecoboost-powered Explorer can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

  • "Those who regularly plan to venture off road and/or demand the added confidence and capability of all-wheel drive face a similar go/no-go decision. However, if light-to-moderate duty motoring really is the primary mission, this new 2.0-liter EcoBoost four definitely has the chops to get the job done - and to do it in a virtually transparent manner while using considerably less fuel." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "The optional 4-cylinder provides adequate acceleration in both around-town and highway driving. It's not snappy from a stop, but delivers decent midrange power once underway. The transmission is alert and smooth for the most part, but some downshifts can be abrupt." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The (Ecoboost) engine itself is as sweet as honey: turbo lag is pretty much nonexistent, and the four whirs along in utter silence unless the driver is really deep into the throttle. Off-the-line response is quite good, but all that weight makes the initial acceleration unsustainable. By the time the engine is midway up the rev range, sluggishness prevails." -- Car and Driver
  • "But at the end of the day, it's the EcoBoost's performance, and lack thereof, that really confounds and confuses us. … The EcoBoost is such a slug that to me, the white Explorer just doesn't register as a new car. It feels like it hails from the first half of the 1990s." -- Motor Trend

Handling and Braking

Reviewers are impressed with the 2012 Ford Explorer’s handling, which is more car-like than truck-like. Though one test driver mentions that the Explorer didn’t fare well through a course of quick turns, others write that the crossover felt confident and well-behaved in most situations, thanks in part to its strong brakes. Shoppers looking for more nimbleness in their seven-seat family hauler should try out the Mazda CX-9. The automotive press rates it as one of the best-driving affordable midsize SUVs.

  • "The 2012 Ford Explorer feels rock-solid at freeway speeds, well-damped over broken pavement and very confident when negotiating a corner. The responsive steering demonstrates Ford's skill at tuning an electric power steering system (which improves fuel economy and allows for an automatic parking feature)." -- Edmunds
  • "As badly as some steering systems seem to be executed nowadays, it's worth calling attention to a setup that feels right. Ford uses electric power assist, which saves fuel by not putting as much drag on the engine. Felt just-so in Explorer." -- USA TODAY
  • "Its wide stance helps maintain good grip. Steering feel is on the light side, but it's quick to respond to desired changes in direction. Braking control is good, but it's marred by spongy pedal action." -- Consumer Guide
  • "In other respects, the EcoBoosted example behaved much like other Explorers we have driven since the formerly body-on-frame model crossed into crossover-dom. The electrically assisted steering is too light but precise, and the brakes are strong." -- Car and Driver
  • "Wallowy in the slalom and figure-eight with understeer being the flavor of choice. This isn't fun." -- Motor Trend

 Off-Roading

While you might think that the car-based Explorer can’t handle off-road duty, you’d be wrong. Though it can’t handle the most rugged trails, reviewers say that its optional all-wheel drive system and terrain response systems are more than up to tackling rutted dirt roads, sandy trails and snowy passes. In fact, the Explorer shares its terrain select system with the Land Rover LR4, which is one of the most capable off-road SUVs around.

  • "The available all-wheel drive shares some of its design with systems offered by Land Rover. The console dial adjusts throttle and transmission calibration to suit varying road conditions. Part of our testing included some light off-roading, and Explorer was quite capable." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Throughout the challenge, the Explorer faithfully scrabbled everywhere the 4Runner did, but with notably less head-toss from its four-wheel independent suspension and indeed, fewer creaks from its body structure." -- Autoblog
  • "With the ability to challenge snow, mud, sand and normal road conditions, we found the Explorer a very competent performer on light trails." -- Left Lane News

Towing

Since it’s not a body-on-frame SUV, the 2012 Explorer’s towing capacity is low compared with its truck-based competitors. Still, reviewers say the 5,000-pound maximum tow rating should be enough for most buyers. Just note that to get that maximum towing capacity, you need to get the V6 engine and optional trailer tow package, which adds about $600 to the base price. With the Ecoboost engine, you can tow up to 2,000 pounds. Most reviewers say that those numbers seem low compared with competitors like the Dodge Durango, but the Explorer’s towing abilities are likely enough for most users.

  • "Fully equipped, the new Explorer can tow 5000 pounds, down from the 7115-pound rating of the 2010 V-8 model. Towing capacity for the four-cylinder is 2000 pounds, enough to haul a Jet Ski or a snowmobile but not much more." -- Car and Driver
  • "Ford doesn't recommend using the EcoBoost-equipped Explorer for any serious towing. Max capacity is rated at 2,000 pounds, which means spotters aren't likely to see a hitch dangling from the rear of the vehicle, either." -- Autoblog

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