Northern Explorer

Fordís Territory replacement is still 12 months away, so we sampled another of the brandís seven-seat SUVs on a drive through the Filipino countryside.

WORDS DEAN MELLOR

FORD EXPLORER drIven 078

Fordís Territory replacement is still 12 months away, so we sampled another of the brandís seven-seat SUVs on a drive through the Filipino countryside.

SOMETIMES youíve got to wonder what the boffins inside car companies are thinking, always saying one thing and then doing another. In this instance, Iím talking about Ford, the US auto giant that Ė like many other companies Ė has for, at least the last 20 years or so, been banging on about global platforms, allowing it to produce and sell the same model vehicles all over the world. In fact, the company even has a name for its global platform ethos: ĎOne Fordí.

But while Ford has several Ďglobalí SUVs on its books, including the diminutive Ford Ecosport, the midsize Kuga (soon to be the midsize Kuga (soon to be renamed Escape), the largeragain Edge, as well as the Aussie-engineered Ford Everest and Ranger models, all of which are built in both left- and right-hand drive, there is one significant omission: the current LHD-only Ford Explorer.

The close of Fordís local manufacturing operations just manufacturing operations just a couple of months ago spelt the end for the popular Falcon-based Territory seven-seat wagon, and while Ford has said it will fill the void with its new Canadian-built Ford Edge, we wonder if the slightly larger seven-seat Explorer wagon would have better filled the gap. After all, at this stage the Canadian-built Edge is only available in a five-seat configuration; although, there is a Chinese-built seven-seat version of the Edge that is more closely matched to the local competition, which includes vehicles such as the Holden Captiva and Toyota Kluger.

Regardless, the Edge isnít likely to land in Australia until about 12 months after Territory sales end in 2017, so itíll be up to the Rangerbased Everest to fly the blue flag in this market segment until that time.

THE EXPLORER

THE Edge is close to the outgoing Territory in terms of overall size. In fact, it has a slightly longer wheelbase, is wider and taller, albeit shorter, at least in five-seat guise. Curiously, neither the five- nor seven-seat versions of the Edge were present on a recent drive in the Philippines that Ford had organised to show off its current SUV line-up.

While there was no Edge, the Philippines drive program gave 4X4 Australia the opportunity to sample four of Fordís six ĎEí vehicles (see sidebar on p98), one of which was the impressive North American-market Explorer, which we tested on both sealed and gravel roads, and we can tell you, itís a bloody nice thing!

The Ford Taurus-based Explorer is bigger than the Territory Ė about 15cm longer, 10cm wider, 6cm taller and with 23mm more ground clearance Ė and it has a voluminous interior with clever seven-seat packaging. The model we sampled was the high-spec Explorer Sport equipped with Fordís Optional Intelligent 4WD System with Terrain Management System.

In the US, the 4WD version of the Explorer (thereís also a 2WD

Unlike the last Explorer, this one has ride and handling to match its performance

FORD EXPLORER AWD

ENGINE Twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 CAPACITY 3.5-litre POWER 272kW @ 5500rpm TORQUE 475Nm @ 1200-3200rpm GEARBOX six-speed auto 4X4 SYSTEM On-demand, TMS CONSTRUCTION Monocoque FRONT SUSPENSION independent/MacPherson strut REAR SUSPENSION independent/multi-link WHEEL/TYRE SPEC alloy / 255/50R20 105H KERB MASS 2020kg GVM N/A PAYLOAD N/A TOWING CAPACITY 750/2267kg SEATING CAPACITY 7 FUEL TANK CAPACITY 70L COMBINED FUEL CLAIM 13.1/100km ON-TEST CONSUMPTION N/A TOURING RANGE N/A PRICE From US$45,355-53,235 version) comes in two spec levels: the Sport at US$45,355 and the top-spec Titanium at US$53,235. If there were a right-hand drive version, and if it were sold here, chances are it would be significantly more expensive than the outgoing Territory. Having said that, the Explorer is jam-packed with high-end equipment and electronic goodies, and is powered by Fordís latest-generation twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 engine, which is an absolute pearler.

THE DRIVE EXPERIENCE

THE 3.5-litre turbocharged, direct-injection petrol V6 punches out claimed peaks of 365hp (272kW) at 5500rpm and 350ft/lb (475Nm) at 3500rpm, all while achieving a claimed combined fuel cycle of 13.1L/100km. Thatís significantly better output than the outgoing six-cylinder petrol Territory (195kW/391Nm) in a vehicle that weighs around 100kg less. Itís also better than any of the engines that will be offered in the Edge, which in various markets around the world include a 2.0L turbo-diesel four (154kW/450Nm), a 2.0L turbo-petrol four (136kW/373Nm), a 3.5L petrol V6 (208kW/339Nm) and a 2.7L turbo-petrol V6 (235kW/475Nm).

Put your boot into the Explorer and it gets up and boogies. The 3.5L Ecoboost V6 is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed auto transmission that kicks down as fast as youíd want when youíre in a hurry. And as the tacho needle heads towards the red zone the engine just keeps on giving, all the while emitting a nice beefy note to perfectly accompany the impressive acceleration on offer.

Sure, thereís no diesel engine option, which would likely have proved more popular in Australia than a big petrol six, but had the Explorer been a part of Fordís ĎOne Fordí strategyÖ Anyway, back to the drive experience. Unlike the last Explorer sold in Oz, this one has the ride

Put your boot into the Explorer and it gets up and boogies

and handling to match its performance. In fact, the suspension tune is surprisingly firm; not the wallowy set-up you might expect if youíd driven older-generation US-market SUVs. The roads in the Philippines are pretty crook, which showed how well the Explorer deals with big bumps and potholes, and it does so without exhibiting much of the booming noise much of the booming noise you often get when driving big monocoque vehicles over rough surfaces. And the steering is surprisingly (again) direct and accurate; itís not overly assisted and it offers good feedback.

Oh, and plant your foot on the brake pedal and the Explorer pulls up quickly and tidily. road loop was quite short, and it The gravel road loop was quite short, and it was all driven at relatively low speeds, and while it did offer the chance to play around with the Terrain Management System (TMS), it was quite difficult to pick a discernible difference between the four settings, which include Normal, Snow, Sand and Mud/Ruts. The different TMS modes, which are accessed by a familiar rotary dial on the centre console, affect the transmission shift program, throttle response and stability control sensitivity. For example, in the Snow setting the transmission upshifts at lower engine revs to help prevent wheel spin, while in Sand it holds on to lower gears for longer to prevent bogging down.

Despite a claimed 200mm of ground clearance, the Explorer will soon bottom out over rough terrain, and wheel travel is also quite limited, but like the Territory, off-road duties are not this vehicleís core focus. It will, however, get riskier driverís out of most slippery situations thanks to the TMS that automatically apportions torque between front and rear wheels as necessary.

The Explorer is also equipped with Hill Descent Control, which is more valuable in a single-range SUV like the Explorer than a hardcore off-roader with decent low-range reduction.

THE PACKAGING

AS mentioned earlier, the interior of the Explorer offers loads of space. In fact, Ford claims a passenger volume of 2313L (behind the first row), which is significantly more than the Edgeís quoted volume of 2078L and the Everestís quoted volume of 2010L, but itís the interior packaging of the Explorer thatís most impressive.

When you slide into the big yet supportive driverís seat, youíre faced with an attractive dash with logically positioned controls and quality switchgear. In typical US fashion, the park brake

Crook roads show how well the Explorer deals with big bumps and potholes

SIZE COMPARISON

EDGE

LENGTH 4777 WIDTH 1928 HEIGHT 1740 WB 2850 GC 200

TERRITORY

4888 1898 1718 2843 175

EVEREST

4892 1860 1837 2850 225

EXPLORER

5037 2004 1778 2865 200

is a foot-operated jobbie, but other than that the styling is very contemporary and it wouldnít look out of place on a Eurodesigned vehicle. The trim is of a very high standard and the double-stitched leather looks great. The electrically adjustable seat combines with electrically adjustable steering and pedals, so just about anyone can find the right driving position.

The second-row seat on our test vehicle offered a traditional 60:40 split and loads of legroom. In the US there are optional twin bucket seats for the second row that incorporate a large centre console with cup-holders. The power-operated third-row seats are the interior packagingís piŤce de rťsistance: they are controlled via four switches in the cargo area that allow you to set them up, stow them or fold them at the push of a button, either individually or together. When set up they offer ample space for a couple of kids, and when stowed they fold into the floor providing a flat load space all the way to the front seats, if you also fold away the second row.

If the outside styling looks somewhat familiar, itís probably because the blackedout A- and B-pillars give it a floating roof look similar to a Range Rover. Oh, that and the fact that the chief engineer on the Explorer (Jim Holland) also previously worked on the L322 Range Rover.

One thing that does stand out about the styling of the Explorer is that it doesnít

THE SIX Es

ECOSPORT

Entry-level SUV based on the Ford Fiesta platform. FWD only.

ESCAPE

Midsize SUV based on the Ford Focus platform. FWD and AWD models.

EDGE

Large SUV based on the Ford Mondeo platform. FWD and AWD models. arge

EXPLORER

Large North American market SUV based on the Ford Taurus platform.

FWD and AWD models.

EVEREST

Large 4X4 based on the Ford Ranger platform. RWD and 4WD models.

EXPEDITION

Extra-large 4X4 based on the Ford F150 platform. RWD and 4WD models.

have the ĎOne Fordí look about it, which is part of the DNA of the Ecosport, Edge and Everest, as well as the upcoming Escape. Instead, the Explorer is all swoopy lines at the front and more distinct angled surfaces around the rest of the body, possibly aimed more specifically at North American tastes.

Nevertheless, the wide, low stance of the Explorer and its unique styling would likely find acceptance in Australia in a premium market niche, if ever a RHD version were built which, unfortunately, will probably never happen. So, ĎOne Fordí it isÖ except for North AmericaÖ and China.

THE STOPGAP

WITH the potential for a 12-month gap between the end of Territory sales and the introduction of the Edge, and no Oz-bound Explorer, that leaves the Everest as Fordís lone battler in the evergrowing seven-seat SUV category.

Despite the Everest being built on the Ranger ute platform, with separatechassis and a live-axle rear-end, it still does a damn good job of impersonating the on-road performance of a car-based SUV. Its torque-laden 3.2L five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (143kW/470Nm) endows it with more than adequate acceleration and ample towing capability, and it actually rides and handles surprisingly well considering its commercial heritage. Sure, it feels a bit cumbersome on the road when driven back-to-back with the Explorer, but take it off the road and it leaves the American SUV in its dust.

Its unique styling would very likely find acceptance in Australia