Good For: A minivan that is still too stupid to drive itself. Over the last five generations, the Explorer has ballooned from a Ford Bronco replacement to a gigantic full-sized SUV. From the driver's seat, the car feels huge due to the long dashboard, tall ceiling, and wide gap between the seat and the door. But even according the numbers, it is slightly bigger than our Tahoe. In spite of the size increase, the fifth generation goes from being built on a rear-wheel-drive truck platform to a front-wheel-drive based car platform. While I am not a fan of front-wheel-drive, the wide-stanced platform does offer far better handling than any full-sized SUV I've ever driven. Minivan features like deep cargo wells behind the 3rd row reflect the crowd Ford is trying to appeal to with the Explorer.
Compromises: I didn't like how slow the 6R80 transmission shifted in the Mustang, and I don't like it in the Explorer either. And of course unlike the Mustang, there is no other tranmission option. Controls in this vehicle are plagued with issues. There are no buttons on the center console. To clarify, controls exist to adjust things like the temperature, but they are all touch sensors that provide no tactile feedback. This is totally the wrong way to implement controls that minimize driver distraction. Ford is going to make us look once to find the button, and then look again on a screen somewhere else to verify that the temperature adjustment was actually made? While they were wrecking the interface, they rotated the speedometer so 60 mph points at the 9 o'clock position - awful for quick glances and attempts to control speed. Ford ruined the turn signal stalk too. It is not a mechanical stalk that sticks in the up and down position, so if you are making a left turn immediately after making a right, pushing all the way down on the turn signal simply cancels the turn signal, so you have to push it again. The up-down resistance of the turn signal stalk is also quite strong, which is not a problem by itself because I got used to it. But the resistance of the forward-back movement to activate the brights was not also aligned, so I was constantly flashing my brights at night whenever I made a lane change or turn. At least now I understand that when I see an Explorer flashing brights, they may not necessarily have road rage issues.
Overall reaction - 2 thumbs Down to Ford for ruining most of the things they touched in the Explorer. I have to give Ford some credit for the two LCD displays that straddle the speedometer. Two distinct D-pads on opposite sides of the steering wheel control their respective screens. The screen on the left displays driving information typically found in the dashboard, and the big display allows instant economy, average economy, miles to empty, cruise speed, fuel gauge, tach, and odometer all in one view! The right side duplicates audio, climate, and communications functions you'd typically find in the center console, because most people would rather see how much cell signal and battery life is left on their iPhone instead of vital car stats like coolant temperature and tire pressure. Speaking of the iPhone, the entire MyFord Touch system can connect to the internet via WiFi hotspots and your cell phone, and you can download apps to run. It should be a no-brainer to develop an app with a stopwatch and logging of vehicle and engine speed, but I doubt it exists. Designs like this have me wondering if most people hate driving, but it's only the ICE that makes the miserable chore tolerable. But then again, if I was forced to deal with the Explorer's controls every day, maybe I would hate driving too.