518 drive time logo on white with signature2 Drivetime With Vinnie Richichi   First Impression: 2013 Ford Explorer Limited

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — After a complete makeover for 2011, Ford’s entry into the family size or full size SUV market the 2013 Explorer gets a few subtle changes that actually improve on the 2011 North American Truck of the Year.

As a part of the makeover the Explorer was softened if you will by going to a unibody type construction that gave it a more car like ride and handling at the expense of some off road toughness. The reality is though that most people who own an Explorer never venture off of the pavement, the four wheel drive used much more on roads that are wet or snowy.

Outside the body remains the same as last year, rounded off and aerodynamically redesigned to boost fuel efficiency while still delivering room on the inside for 8 passengers or a ton of cargo. Lots of glass and slabby sheet metal meet up with refined rounded front and rear end designs to give the Explorer a unique look. It still screams SUV but has a nice car like quality to it

Inside the Explorer hits the mark with quality materials and roomy seats, three rows of them. Well placed informative gauges and information modules work nicely but most controls run off a touch screen that can be a bit complicated to use. The vehicle I drove had goodies like power fold down rear seat, blindside warning systems, adaptive cruise and the SYNC voice activated navigation and entertainment system. A ton of safety features as well including inflatable rear seat belts and  the zoom lens on the backup camera…a small thing but someone at  Ford was thinking, The Explorer also gives you lots of headroom.

Under the hood Ford gets more with less. The standard 3.5 liter, 290 horsepower V6 with the 6 speed automatic  gives you as much power as 2010’s V8 in a quieter more gas efficient engine. Tow capacity is down to 5000 pounds but plenty for most needs like jet skis, trailers etc. The V6 was smooth and quiet never straining even loaded with passengers. The V6 delivers up to 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. New for 2012 and carried over into 2013 is a turbo charged EcoBoost 4 cylinder engine that gives you less towing capacity but more torque than the V6. It will run you about a grand more on the sticker but the mileage figures at 20 mpg city and 28 highway say that you should save that much at the pump over a short period of time.

Handling is car like with electric power steering giving the big Explorer a nice feel of the road and the car based suspension and unibody construction make the Explorer surprisingly agile for its size. There was not a lot of body roll or roughness through washboard  type roads with the independent rear  suspension doing a nice job of absorbing the bumps while keeping the Explorer firmly planted on the road.

If you come upon that rare occasion when you have to go off road, the Explorer gives you a safe 8 inches of ground clearance and makes switching from 2WD to 4WD fairly simple by turning a dial on the center console to use Ford’s Terrain Management System.  TMS selects the best 4WD range for the terrain you are on, snow, sand, mud or normal. The system also includes hill descent mode which regulates downhill speed on rough terrain. It is one of the simplest 4WD systems available today.

The Ford Explorer Limited I drove pretty well loaded had a sticker price of $46,850 with mileage as mentioned earlier. The Explorer is also a top safety pick of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

The folks over at the blue oval got the Explorer right. It uses less gasoline and is smaller on the outside while not sacrificing a lot of room where it counts…on the inside. It is quick, agile, comfortable, roomy and a pleasure to drive. If you can’t give up the large SUV for whatever reason and you can admit that you are not going to run your car through the backwoods too often, then the Ford Explorer might be right up your driveway.

For more information: http://www.ford.com/suvs/explorer/?searchid=65126314|2096241754|11341490

Vinnie Richichi has been driving vehicles of all kinds and covering the automotive scene for over 20 years. His Drivetime-radio vehicle reviews have aired on radio stations across the US as well as his website www.drivetime-radio.com. You can hear Vinnie weekdays on The Vinnie and Cook Show on Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan.

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