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The Ford Explorer: Everything you need to know

If you haven’t driven a Ford Explorer [1], chances are you know someone who has. After all, the SUV has been around for decades. The Ford Explorer was introduced in 1990, long before SUVs began dominating the U.S. car market. Since then, six generations of the Explorer have delighted motorists.

Today, the Explorer is appealing to a variety of drivers. It has seating for up to seven passengers and more cargo space than most other mid-sized SUVs, making it a good choice for families or outdoorsy drivers who transport lots of gear. The Explorer’s optional four-wheel drive makes it a good choice for drivers who go off-roading or regularly travel in snow or ice. Although the Ford Explorer offers luxurious options like leather massaging seats (available on the Platinum trim), the SUV feels more rugged and durable than some competitors.

Overall, the Explorer offers something for everyone. It comes with three engine options (in model years 2016-2019): a 290-horsepower V6 (the standard engine), a turbocharged EcoBoost a 280-horsepower four-cylinder, and a 365-horsepower EcoBoost V6. The sixth generation (2011-2019) is available in five trim levels that run the gamut from basic to luxurious. The seventh generation of the Explorer, completely redesigned, is expected for the 2020 model year.

Here’s everything you need to know if you’re considering buying a used Ford Explorer:

Price and Value: The 2019 Ford Explorer starts at $32,365, with the higher-level trim selling for more than $54,000. To save money, opt for a used Ford Explorer, which offer many of the same features as the 2019 model. The sixth-generation Explorer runs from 2011-2019, but for the latest features, opt for the 2017 model year or later. That year, the Explorer had a mid-cycle refresh that updated the infotainment system and made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available. The EcoBoost four-cylinder engine was introduced in 2014, and an update in 2016 increased the base engine horsepower from 240 to 280, so if a more powerful engine is important to you, chose a 2016 or later.

Size and Seating Capacity: The 2019 Ford Explorer comes standard with seating for seven passengers: two in the front row, three in the middle row and two in the back row. If you opt for bucket seats in the second row (available on trim levels XLT and higher), you’ll only be able to carry six people.

The 2019 Ford Explorer has 39.5 inches of leg room in the middle row and 33.3 inches of leg room in the back row. The back row might be a bit cramped for adults, but it will do for short distance. The Explorer’s third row is great because the seats fold up and down individually, giving drivers options for how best to use the space. For example, you can raise one seat for a passenger, and leave the other folded flat to have more cargo space.

Even with all three rows of seating in use, the Ford Explorer has ample cargo space. The 2019 Explorer, for example, has 21 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. If the back row is folded flat, the Explorer offers 43.9 cubic feet of cargo space, more than most of its competitors.

Drivers who regularly tow will appreciate that the 2019 Explorer can haul up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped with the Class III Trailer Tow package, available on all trim levels. That’s enough to move a small camping trailer or motorboat without any trouble. If you only need to tow small loads, like a jet-ski, four-wheeler or yard trailer, opt for the Class II Trailer Tow Package, which offers 3,000 pounds of towing capacity.

The Ford Explorer: Everything you need to know [2]

Features and Trims: The sixth generation of the Ford Explorer (years 2011-2019) comes in five trim levels: Explorer, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum. Standard features that are available on all trim levels include remote keyless entry, MyKey ® system (which allows owners to set speed and volume limits for certain drivers), 12-volt power outlets, and Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system (available on years 2017 and later). Intelligent four-wheel drive with Terrain Management System™ and Hill Descent Control™ is an available option for all trims.

Here’s what features you can expect on each of the Ford Explorer’s trim levels:

The Ford Explorer: Everything you need to know [3]

Fuel Economy: The 2016-2019 Ford Explorer with the base 290-horsepower V6 engine gets an EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined fuel economy in both front-wheel and four-wheel drive. Choosing the four-cylinder EcoBoost engine increases the fuel economy to 22 mpg combined, while the more powerful 365-horsepower V6 reduces fuel economy to 18 mpg combined. Compared to many other mid-sized SUVs, the Ford Explorer is less fuel efficient.

Safety: The Ford Explorer has a perfect 5 out of 5 safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for model years 2012 through 2019. In 2011, the Explorer earned a four-star rating, and before that year it was not rated.

However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) did not rank the Explorer as highly. Testing model years 2011-2019, the institute gave the Explorer ratings of marginal and poor for crashes on the driver and passenger side, respectively. It also rated the Explorer as poor for headlight performance.

Drivers who want an extra safe vehicle should opt for an Explorer with Ford’s Safe and Smart™ Package, which is available as an option on XLT and higher trims. The package adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with brake support, blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, and automatic windshield wipers.

Reliability: The reliability of the Ford Explorer varies throughout the sixth generation, varying from below average to average. The 2019, 2017, 2014, 2012 and 2011 Ford Explorer model years have reliability ratings of 3 out of five, according to J.D. Power. That is average. The 2018 and 2016 models have a slightly below-average reliability rating of 2.5. The 2015 and 2013 models have a reliability rating of 2 out of 5.

Ratings: The Ford Explorer doesn’t stand out among the popular mid-sized SUV class. Although it ranks solidly in the middle of the class, it doesn’t have any outstanding rating that consumers should know about.

The Takeaway: The Ford Explorer is a well-loved SUV that has stood the test of time. It offers plenty of space for passengers and cargo, and is a good vehicle for people who want four-wheel drive and towing capabilities. However, compared to other mid-sized SUVs, the Explorer is more expensive, less fuel efficient, and lacking some features.