When I was a college student, I drove around in a little sports coupe. It was nowhere near the fastest thing on the road, but I threw some money on it nonetheless. I got some strut bars to stiffen up the chassis, a short ram intake and catback exhaust for “performance” upgrades, and some new taillights for the aesthetic. Oh, and I lowered it a couple inches too, making it one of the least practical vehicles on the road. I went over speed bumps diagonally to avoid scraping the bottom.
Needless to say, such a vehicle would have been completely useless for our #5DadsGoWild camping trip this past weekend. Instead, our friends over at Ford Canada loaned us the 2018 Ford Explorer, a full-size SUV that’s just as comfortable in the city (and in the burbs) as it is in the woods. Which is exactly where we took it.
The Ford Explorer fits toward the larger end of the company’s SUV lineup, a few steps up from the Ford EcoSport I drove earlier this year and just below the bigger Ford Expedition. It’s got this confident stance about it that makes you feel like you can handle just about anything.
Like some other vehicles in its class, the Ford Explorer comes with three rows of seating for up to a total of seven passengers (including the driver). Unlike some other vehicles in its class, the Explorer offers a powered third row. You don’t have to lunge and pull on straps or anything like that. It’s much more elegant than that.
On the inner left side of the trunk, you’ll find a series of buttons. Simply press the corresponding button for the configuration you desire, from regular seating to stowing them away or simply folding them down. The third row is split too, so you can have the left and right side in different positions.
That made it really easy for us to load up all our gear in the trunk (and the back seat). I’m fairly certain we over-packed, but it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, right? This was, after all, my first ever camping trip. Real talk.
Ford certainly didn’t skimp on the creature comforts with the Explorer. You see those leather seats? They’re heated and cooled (three levels of each), and they’re power adjustable. What’s nice is that for the driver, the seat automatically moves back and the steering wheel automatically moves up when you shut off the ignition, moving back into driving position when you start up again. That makes it easier to get in and out.
But there’s more. The front seats are actually massage chairs. Talk about sitting in the lap of luxury, right? The panoramic moonroof lets in plenty of light and the soft touch materials throughout give a great, premium feel to the whole experience.
And sometimes, it’s about the little details. When you shut off the car and lock it up, the side mirrors fold in automatically. Unlock the car and get back in, and the mirrors fold back out. This is great when you happen to be in narrower parking spots. There’s a little light under each side mirror too.
As I am not normally accustomed to driving a vehicle this size, it took a little getting used to driving in the city. This was particularly true navigating through narrow side streets, though I’m certain I had a lot more room around me than I thought I did.
The wide-angle backup camera is further supported by side parking sensors, plus active park assist if you want a little more help. I’m more inclined to park myself, but it’s reassuring to know the system is there if I need it.
Something that I’ve really noticed about Ford vehicles in recent years is the company’s dedication to technology. These cars and trucks and SUVs are loaded with toys and modern conveniences. There’s a handy USB charging port in the front, underneath a spring-loaded flap, where you charge your device of choice. That’s also how you hook up the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The SYNC system (SYNC 3 is in the 2018 Ford Explorer) has gotten progressively better with each iteration. You get a large 8-inch LCD touchscreen to control just about everything, from audio to climate controls to navigation to the color of the ambient lighting at your feet (yes, that’s a thing). Some of these controls are duplicated with manual buttons, like some of the climate and audio controls.
This is great, except that the more complex nature of the system means there’s a slight learning curve. As my windshield was getting fogged up one night, it took me several seconds to find how to turn on the defogger/defroster. Turns out there’s a physical button for quick access, which I know now, but I didn’t immediately know at the time. It’s also accessible through the on-screen UI, but it takes a couple taps to get there.
Folks sitting in the back are treated to a couple of USB ports for charging devices, as well as a regular 100V AC wall outlet for whatever you might need too. This can be incredibly useful for road trips. You’ll also notice the climate controls there, plus the buttons for heated seats. Are heated rear seats a common thing in SUVs these days? Because they should be!
From what I can gather, several (if not all) of these ports remain actively powered even when the vehicle has been turned off. Again, this can be both a positive and a negative. I had a dashcam hooked up to the front 12V outlet. Normally, that outlet loses power when the vehicle is shut off and thus, the dashcam turns off too.
Because the 12V kept supplying power, the dashcam stayed on. Over the long haul, that could potentially drain the battery of the Explorer, though the power consumption of a dashcam is likely pretty minimal. Even so, we were in the middle of the woods with no cell phone reception and I didn’t want to throw caution to the wind.
A common concern that consumers may have about driving a full-size SUV is fuel consumption. “Oh, here’s another gas guzzler” is the usual line of thought. In our experience with #5DadsGoWild, driving between Vancouver and Manning Park with a couple pit stops in between, we achieved an overall fuel economy rate of 12.2L/100km. That fits right into the estimated range of 9.8L/100km on the highway and 13.9L/100km in the city.
This was with about 560 kilometers total, including some in-city driving (as we were picking things up prior to the leaving for the trip) and slower cruising in Manning Park. It’s certainly more than a small car, but these figures are hardly outrageous either. With a price at the pump of about $1.40/L, we paid about $100 to $110 in gas for our trip.
James kept telling us how much he loved this truck; he’ll be offering up a full review on his blog soon if he hasn’t already done so. I didn’t spend much time with the truck, though I did like how it has power running boards that extend and retract automatically, just like how the side mirrors fold up on the Explorer.
Update: Here is his review of the 2019 Ford F-150.
The 2018 Ford Explorer starts from $31,838 in Canada and scales up past the $50,000 mark depending on packages and options. It comes in loads of colors to suit just about any style. Based on our brief experience with the vehicle, I’d say it’s well suited for everything from grabbing groceries to soccer practices to weekend camping trips in the woods.
Disclosure: Ford Canada loaned the Ford Explorer and the Ford F-150 to us for the #5DadsGoWild trip at no cost to us. We were responsible for fuel costs and other incidentals. We were not otherwise compensated in any other way. Opinions are entirely my own.