By Frank S. Washington
DETROIT – Ford bet big on digital controls and the automaker seems to be winning. The center stack of every Ford is almost button-less, controls are activated either through a touch screen or a touch pad. It makes for a really clean and uncluttered look. That’s the case with the 2014 Ford Explorer. The interior of the sport utility was modern and unfettered by a lot of confusing controls. Still, it took a deep breath and some patience to understand how everything worked.
Two TFT (thin film transistor) screens on either side of a huge speedometer were key. The one on the right held controls for Explorer features like the entertainment, navigation and phone systems. On the left were controls for the vehicle itself like display mode, fuel economy and other settings. Selections were made for both sides from the steering wheel control buttons, the only place where there were actually buttons.
The 2014 Explorer was quiet, it rode really smooth and it had an ambience of quality in the interior. The MacPherson strut front suspension and the multilink coil over shock absorbers rear suspension did their job nicely. With the streets here rift with potholes, big and small, maneuverability was at a premium and the Explorer did well. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) was non-existent as ruddy roads were everywhere. At the time of the test drive, snow was still on the ground.
The Explorer had two engine choices: a two liter EcoBoost four cylinder that makes 240 horsepower and the test vehicle engine which was the 3.5 liter V6 that made 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, this power train was smooth, quiet and under normal driving had plenty of oomph held in reserve.
One downside was that this engine was not a gas sipper. We traveled 189.8 miles and averaged 16.6 MPG. The premium paid these days for unaspirated power is fuel consumption. For sure, the weight of the all-wheel-drive system and putting power to all four wheels contributed to the low mileage. The EPA rating was 17 MPG in the city and 23 MPG on the highway.
Still, the 2014 four-wheel-drive Ford Explorer had plenty to offer. It had three rows of seats and it could accommodate seven passengers. However, that third row was comfortable for two smaller people; not necessarily small children but not full-frown adults either. Head room as well as leg room was a little close in the third row. But it was easy to access and relatively easy to get out of though a hand grip of some sort would have come in, eh, handy. There was 21 cubic feet of storage behind the third row. With the third row folded that increased to 43.8 cubic feet of cargo space. And the 2014 Ford Explorer could tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The test vehicle had the $5,424 equipment group 302A. It included voice activated navigation, luxury seating package, power-fold third row seat, power liftgate, heated steering wheel, second row inflatable seat belts, blind spot monitoring, active park assist, lane departure land keep assist, rain sensing wipers and automatic high beams.
Of course, the test vehicle was equipped with the usual complement of creature comforts: satellite radio, Bluetooth, a rearview camera and USB and auxiliary jacks. But during the really frigid winter, several automotive attributes could be classified cold weather equipment. Push button lock, unlock and start and stop made for quick and easy access. Remote start let the 2014 Explorer warm up before driving commenced and heated front row seats (they were cooled too) as well as heated second row seats made driving comfortable almost from the start.
The Ford Explorer is still a capable sport utility vehicle and it had all the features that you’d expect of a vehicle priced at $46,420.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com