23 August 2011

Family Vacation 5, sponsored by Ford

So, the verdict. After spending about 10 days with the Ford Explorer, what was my impression?

Keep in mind, I'm not an automotive writer for Road & Track and I'm not a Top Gear television host. Heck, I'm not even a professional reviewer. So, don't expect fancy, descriptive things describing things about stuff, OK? I'm just a blogger who happens to drive, was going on vacation at the time that a vehicle at Ford became available for review and nobody more qualified was available, so here it is, my review of the new Explorer.

Vehicle: Ford Explorer 2011
Hours: 51 hours driving (12 hours in a row was the longest stretch)
Distance: 3682 kilometers
Fuel Usage: Filled up 7 times at about $80 per fill (sorry, I never calculate fuel consumption... what's the point? ...you fill up, you use, you fill up, you use, why aggravate yourself by learning how much you're going through?)
Price as Tested: $50,300 including GST, as priced out at Ford

Things I liked:

Let me say that there was actually a lot that I liked, the items below were the highlights.

Drove nice - the ride was smooth and easy to handle, often times, I forgot I was driving a big truck. That says a lot when you look at miles of winding mountain roads we took this on over the past week. I would go so far as to say, that I'm not even sure how it handles on a straight away - we drove highway 99 in BC, a road that makes the journey to Tofino seem like a ride in Saskatchewan. The Explorer ate it up, like it was meant for these roads exclusively.

Air Conditioned Seats! - why the hell is this not standard on every vehicle in the world??? Well, it's not, so you'll have to buy the Explorer to get it (Lincolns do to). This simple little feature made my travels around Vancouver Island in 30 degree weather not only bearable, but enjoyable.

It's Silver - the Explorer we got was silver, this colour made it look clean even when it wasn't... I was quite amazed as we went down gravel roads, dirt roads and some rain - it looked like a shiny new vehicle all the time. Great curb appeal.

Roomy - we fit 5 people easily, along with 5 suitcases, 3 pillows, a brief case and some duffel bags. A 6th person would have meant a drastic reduction in luggage, the extra seat folded down to allow more cargo room. There is plenty of room for all passengers, the front compartment is immense - sitting in the driver seat I could nearly swing my left arm in a full circle - loads of space for the driver.

Decent power - I'm a guy, but I'm not one of them guys that has to look under the hood. In fact, the times when I do, I'm just checking for cleanliness. I don't know what I'm looking at, not any more, not since the engine compartment started filling up with computers. So, when I say the V6 had juice, I am assuming it was a V6 - it had a decent amount of power, it passed cars with not too much trouble at all. There is a hitch on the Explorer, but other than a tent trailer or a boat, I'm not sure how effective it would be with a large trailer - not on the inclines of highway 99 that is. If you're not looking to tow a 20+ foot trailer, this has plenty of punch for any driver.

Comfort - perhaps the most impressive attribute of the Explorer is the comfort, this was just plain comfortable to be in. I noticed little if any driver fatigue, and we had one 12 hour day on the road. The kids were behaved and quiet most of the journey, I suspect some of that was their comfort as well. Having been stuck on the highway for 4 hours, just a few weeks ago in my wife's Mercedes, I can attest that the Explorer has a much more comfortable drivers seat. In Canada, when many people have long commutes or do long distance driving, comfort is important.

Bright Lights - the hologen headlamps are really nice on the country roads at night, they are extremely bright and light up everything in their path. In fact, they are so good they make the high beams seem useless - there was little difference switching from the two, other than the height of the light stream. Very cool. I never turned on the fog lamps as we never experienced fog - I'm not one of those idiots that have fog lamps on all day long (I'm a different kind of idiot altogether, actually).

Rain Sensing Wipers - these worked great - I never had to touch a thing. Great feature.

Rear View Camera - OMG, this was a godsend. Typically, it takes time to get used to how a vehicle handles and it's size before you are really comfortable in backing up. The back up camera on the Explorer was absolutely amazing. It made backing into spots, getting out of tight places and clearing out of a parking lot seamless and effortless. A brilliant addition for the Explorer.

Aluminum Wheels - these are probably the best looking stock wheels that I have ever seen, they are very stylish and sleek and not just a giant logo - well done Ford.

Things I didn't like:

There was more that I liked than disliked, but the things that bugged me about this vehicle, bugged me a lot - most are electronic related.

Too big - it's not just Ford, it's every North American car manufacturer, they believe that building vehicles larger is better, the Explorer is guilty of this. If you strip away the gigantic body, you would be left with a relatively normal sized vehicle - it all seams so wasteful of materials and in excess. Sitting in the passenger seat, I feel as though the cockpit was designed specifically for the obese. Now, take that with a grain of salt, I'm a small car kinda guy.

Electric Seats - I can get that the passenger and driver have electric seats, but why do the two back rows? The addition of electric motors surely adds weight to the vehicle. In the case of the second row of seats, there was no advantage at all in having the seat slowly fold electrically over me pulling the lever and doing it manually - it was just a waste of parts in my mind. Don't get me started on the third row, I think the fact that this split seat was electric actually took away from the amount of cargo, and be careful putting in that cargo - I accidentally hit a button and crushed a bottle of water as there is no 'stop' button... yikes! I accidentally hit the buttons a few times and was thankful one of my children wasn't in the seats when they started performing furniture origami.

Mood lights (AKA Ambient Lighting) - the last part of our journey was driving at night, on came the interior mood lights - OMG. At night, the following lights come on: blue cup holder light rings, blue door handle lights, blue floor lights front and back. Aside from wondering why my feet need to be illuminated while I drive, I couldn't help but think this is was as cheesy as a muscle car on exhibition in some downtrodden shopping mall. This feature is cartoonish and amaturish, worst of all - how do you turn it off? At night, I like the inside of my vehicle dark, almost black, just a dimly lit speedo and I'm a happy guy - the inside of the Explorer at night looks like a Chuck E. Cheese in full swing. A 16 year old boy might think that it is cool, not sure if that's who they are targeting for purchase however.

Touch screens - who thought putting touch screens in a moving vehicle was a good idea? UGH!!! Ford used to have the best driver experience in their vehicles as far as I was concerned - buttons and knobs were designed well and you felt in control as you flipped switches and twisted dials. In fact, you didn't even have to look at them to know they were set right. The two display screens on either side of the speedo in combination with the main touch screen, steering column controls on both sides as well as the bottom touch screen are a mess and require you to take your eyes from the road every single time you adjust something. It's called Ford Touch and it's powered by Sync. Maybe it's just me, but I felt as though I was multi-tasking, not driving. It was like trying to manage Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Foursquare all at once. And, I know that Ford will say, use the voice activated feature... it's like calling Telus though, voice prompt after voice prompt... enough to make me want to veer into oncoming traffic. I'd don't want to talk to my car, I want to drive it. Put some buttons on the dash or something so I don't have to look down at the dashboard every time I want to change the speed of the air conditioning fan. I'd be curious as to the accident statistics for vehicles with this system in it - I felt it was too distracting. Luckily, my wife was right beside me, making sense of most of it and fixing the settings that I accidentally brushed against and changed.

Sync. The listening experience was anything but N'sync. I had a hunch that 'Powered by Microsoft' was a warning sticker and not a promotional badge. We connected the iPhone to Sync, only to have it unrecognized the second day and no way to re-boot the Bluetooth. So, we began using the USB plug in (hard to access BTW), this was great until the audio system did a scheduled maintenance and re-booted resulting in the USB no longer working. Luckily, the Bluetooth began working again - this happened a couple of times (back and forth from Bluetooth to USB) and was a pain to sort out before driving each time. It was not easy listening. It would have been easier to use my iPod. Maybe it works good with a Zune, but the rest of the world is using iPods, adapt. And, despite following the instructions, we were never able to upload the contact list to the system, making dialing by voice next to impossible unless we knew the number by heart.

Things I'm not sure about.

Keyless ignition - I don't get this at all, and it's not Ford or this vehicle per se - it's a lot of vehicles these days... it's not a convenient feature in my mind. The keyless entry is sometimes nice, having the car detect the keys on me and opening my door automatically was handy, but when everyone has to get in, you have to fumble for the key fob to allow access all around, which was most times for us. Keyless ignition is just awkward, and I know a lot of cars have this, it's nothing new - it bugs me on all cars... where do you put the key fob when you're driving? If you need it with you to start the car, where's the convenience? ...not having to turn a key?

Adaptive Cruise Control - the Explorer features cruise control that measures the gap between the car ahead of you and provides acceleration and applies breaks to maintain the distance. This is a neat feature and I quite liked it on two lane highways, it worked great in that instance. However, on four lane divided highways, just plain old cruise control would be preferred. This stopped working when our sensor was blocked while overtaking a car - we were made aware of this with many beeps and alarms, not what you want to hear as you approach oncoming traffic with a head of steam. The rain must have cleared the sensor because it began working again about an hour later.

Active Park Assist - I just don't understand this feature, if you can't park the vehicle yourself, perhaps driving ain't your thing, man.

Who should buy one?

Big families. Loading the kids up for soccer or hockey would be great in all conditions - waiting in the vehicle for practices to end would be comfortable as well. Big people. If you are a big person, you will be comfortable in this. I'm not small by any stretch, but I felt tiny driving the Explorer - more than enough room for the driver and passenger. Travelers. If you travel a great deal, eating up the nations roadways, you will be comfortable in this cruiser - it would serve you nicely all year round.

The bottomline.

This was a fun and comfortable vehicle to drive and I would even go so far as to recommend the Explorer to families as a reliable daily vehicle... a much better alternative to the minivan. If you are interested in test driving one, which I recommend you should - find the dealer nearest you and go drive it for yourself. Visit the Ford Explorer site here.

For me, there's a few too many gizmos to feel completely at home in the Explorer and it's a bit too big for my driveway, otherwise for the price, it's a lot of vehicle. Last summer, I drove a Vauxhall Insignia around the UK for three weeks putting some 4500 kms on it and I couldn't wait to ditch it at the airport, partly because I was heading home, but mostly because it was poorly made and had no power - a complete opposite to the Explorer.

In the first post, I mentioned that I was a Ford man... you may ask if I am still a Ford man? Absolutely, the Explorer is a quality truck and a great family vehicle, Ford will continue to be on the top of my list of vehicle manufacturers.

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Blogger Unknown said...

While you might not be good enough for the BBC version of Top Gear (but then again, who is??), who seem immanently more qualified than the american dolts!

Good read Kevin, well done.

Bill Demers

8/27/2011 10:13:00 AM  

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