2022 Ford Explorer Review | It’s all about the variety
No other three-row SUV offers the variety of options as the 2022 Ford Explorer. Want something to take on family adventures off the beaten path? There’s the new Explorer Timberline. How about something to get your blood pumping because the rest of the family hauler choices are, well, a bit of a bore? Come on down ST and the less powerful, new-for-2022 ST-Line. Finally, there’s the luxurious and muscular Explorer King Ranch and Platinum.
Ultimately, we think these various niche choices within the Explorer lineup are the most compelling because they offer things that few other competitors can match. That goes for towing capacity, too. However, if you’re looking more for a function-first family hauler – and most three-row SUV shoppers are – the Explorer isn’t quite as strong as other choices like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade. Its interior quality and space in particular hold it back. The Explorer Hybrid’s emphasis on performance over fuel economy is also a bit puzzling, falling substantially short of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Basically, the Explorer will be the just-right choice for a relatively small number of niche buyers, and a decent one for everyone else.
What’s new for 2022?
The Explorer trim lineup gains the ST-Line for 2022, but this is also the first full year for the Explorer Timberline and King Ranch. The ST-Line gets the regular ST’s design and chassis upgrades but sticks with the base four-cylinder engine (the regular ST can also now be paired with rear-wheel drive). The Explorer King Ranch is consistent with the F-150 and Expeditions of the same name: special badging and interior color schemes applied to a range-topping trim level. In this case, it’s on par with the Platinum, including its standard turbo V6. Finally, there’s the new Timberline that provides the Explorer with some long-missing off-road chops by hiking up the ride height and clearance angles, and adding a Torsen limited-slip diff, a recalibrating suspension, all-terrain tires, under-body protection and the beefy dampers from Explorer Police Interceptors (albeit retuned). It also gets special exterior and interior design flourishes.
What are the Explorer interior and in-car technology like?
We’re happy Ford has introduced the Timberline and King Ranch versions (pictured above) because both add a much-needed pop of color and visual interest to what is otherwise a pretty drab interior. Some may even call it a bit ugly, especially when the big vertically oriented touchscreen is slapped to the dash. It looks awfully low rent compared to a Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade or Toyota Highlander, and the materials quality does little to change that perception.
Every Explorer comes standard with Ford’s Sync3 infotainment interface. It responds well to inputs and swipe gestures, icons are easily read and pressed, and feature content is typically robust for this segment. That includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, although we’ve found that too many of their functions are locked out while in motion. We ended up using Sync3’s native controls for navigation or playing music from a smartphone.
Now, while every Explorer has Sync3, the screen that controls it differs. The standard 8-inch touchscreen is easy to see and reach, and we like the extra smartphone-holding bin below it. That disappears with the 10.1-inch vertically oriented touchscreen, which is optional on the ST and standard on the Platinum and King Ranch. Worse, the big screen doesn’t really improve functionality as you might expect. The 12.3-inch digital instrument panel included on those three top trims is far more successful and even changes its design based on the one of seven possible drive modes selected.
How big is the Explorer?
The current Explorer is larger than both its predecessor and most competitors. At 198.8 inches long, only the gargantuan Chevy Traverse is larger. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel that big when behind the wheel.
Inside, the Explorer’s dimensions indicate it has more second- and third-row legroom than all of its three-row competitors except the Traverse. However, in person we’ve found it to be less spacious than its dimensions would indicate, especially in the third row. While there’s tons of headroom back there, it’s largely the result of a low-mounted seat. So while there’s literally more space between rows, your passengers (even kids) are less likely to be comfortable since their butts will be too close to the ground and their legs less supported. They’ll be happier in a Traverse, Kia Telluride or Hyundai Palisade.
The cargo area is as good as its dimensions would indicate, however. Thanks to a removable floor panel, there is more space behind the raised third row than most competitors. The differences in maximum cargo space (all rows lowered) between competitors are negligible, but those extra cubes behind the way-back could mean the difference between bringing all your luggage, buying a roof box or making someone sit with a duffle bag on their lap for three hours.
What are the Explorer fuel economy, performance and towing specs?
Here is where the 2022 Ford Explorer really shines. Standard on most trims is a 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. That’s considerably better than the naturally aspirated V6 engines found in most competitors. A 10-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive are standard, but all-wheel-drive is optional. Fuel economy estimates for 2022 hadn’t been released at the time of this writing, but we don’t anticipate they’d be different from the final figures of 2021: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with RWD and 20/27/23 with AWD. The AWD-only Timberline is 19/23/21.
Standard on the King Ranch and Platinum is a 3.0-liter turbocharged “EcoBoost” V6 good for 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque – that blows away anything offered by a competitor apart from the V8-powered Dodge Durango. That doesn’t come close to the EcoBoost’s fuel economy, however, which is 18/26/21 with RWD and 18/24/20 with AWD. It too has a 10-speed automatic.
The Explorer ST gets an enhanced version of the same engine good for 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. Ford says it’ll go from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, which is certainly quick, but not as quick as we’d expect given its power and the performance of certain competitors. Fuel economy is apparently the same as the Platinum, but we strongly suspect it would be much lower in the real world than in the EPA’s laboratory given the power discrepancy.
Finally, the Explorer Hybrid pairs a 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V6 to an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack under the passenger-side cabin. Its total output is 318 hp. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 27 mpg city, 28 mph highway and 27 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive. It lowers to 23/26/25 with all-wheel drive. This is admittedly underwhelming as according to those same EPA estimates, you’d only save about $100 on average per year by going with the hybrid instead of the standard engine. Also, for comparison, the all-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander Hybrid gets 35 mpg combined. That’s as big a difference as it seems.
That said, Ford has put a priority on performance, even with the hybrid. You can see that with towing capacity, which stands at 5,000 pounds for the Hybrid. The Highlander has 72 fewer horses and can only tow 3,500 pounds. For the non-hybrid Explorers, towing goes up to 5,300 for the 2.3-liter and 5,600 for the 3.0-liter engines. Both figures are better than average for the segment.
What’s the Explorer like to drive?
Not surprisingly, the Explorer’s driving feel differs depending on engine and drivetrain choice. Acceleration is strong in the base engine and we don’t think you’ll miss having a V6. Of course, acceleration is laugh-enducingly rapid with the Explorer’s turbo V6 upgrades, but they come at such a high cost that most potential buyers will find them largely a moot point. Luckily, we found a rear-wheel-drive, four-cylinder XLT to exhibit greater agility and eagerness to change direction than the more powerful Platinum. Having a lighter engine over front wheels unburdened by drive shafts tends to do that. Now, we wouldn’t go so far as to call any of the non-ST models sporty – the suspension is a little too springy and the steering too uncommunicative for that – but it nevertheless provides a little more driving verve and connection than is usual for the segment. If there’s one reason to choose an Explorer over a Telluride or Palisade, this is it.
The Explorer ST indeed steps things up with greater suspension composure, while not ruining the ride. The steering doesn’t improve, though, and in general, we found the ST to be too big and heavy to be considered a true performance vehicle. It’s also not quite over-the-top enough to match the joyously absurd Dodge Durango SRT. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we had not tested the off-road-oriented Explorer Timberline at the time of this review.
The Hybrid, meanwhile, impresses with its refinement, performance and lack of drivability tradeoffs. However, its fuel economy advantage is so negligible that it’s really hard to recommend unless you do the vast majority of your driving in stop-and-go traffic where its notably better MPG city rating will actually make a difference.
What other Ford Explorer reviews can I read?
2020 Ford Explorer First Drive
Covers more in-depth engineering, design and driving impressions of the 2.3-liter Explorer and 3.0-liter Explorer Platinum. This also includes our test of driving the Explorer with a trailer.
2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid First Drive
Our first driving impressions of the Ford Explorer Hybrid, including information about its gasoline-electric powertrain.
2020 Ford Explorer ST First Drive
Our first time behind the wheel of the high-performance ST. Though we’re glad they didn’t make it uncomfortably hardcore, we also don’t think it goes far enough in terms of over-the-top speed and drama.
2020 Ford Explorer ST vs 2019 Dodge Durango SRT: How they compare on paper
See how the engine specs and dimensions of these two high-powered family haulers compare to each other.
How much is the 2022 Explorer price and what features are available?
Ford had not published the destination charge for the 2022 Explorer at the time of this writing, so all prices below are without it. Last year’s was $1,245 and the 2022 Maverick’s destination charge is $1,495.
Pricing therefore starts at $33,100 for the base Explorer, which doesn’t nickel and dime you. It still comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, the Co-Pilot360 suite of accident avoidance tech (see Safety section), rear privacy glass, a power liftgate, tri-zone climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, an 8-inch touchscreen running Ford’s Sync3 tech interface, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, in-car WiFi, satellite radio and a six-speaker sound system. The optional all-wheel-drive system brings with its seven selectable drive modes.
Obviously, the other trim levels add extra equipment. There are also numerous options packages. To list them all would result in this review challenging the works of Tolstoy for length. To make things easier, you can find a complete breakdown of features, specs and local pricing here on Autoblog for the 2022 Explorer.
All prices WITHOUT destination, all-wheel drive is a $2,000 option.
Timberline (AWD only): $46,190
King Ranch: $53,610
What are the Explorer safety ratings and driver assistance features?
The 2022 Explorer’s standard Co-Pilot360 suite of safety features includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning (this is optional on most competitors), automatic high beams and a rearview camera with a built-in lens washer (if you’re in the middle of a cruddy winter, you should appreciate this one). The available Co-Pilot Assist+ package adds adaptive cruise control. Reverse automatic braking is available on upper trim levels.
The Explorer got a perfect five stars in all government crash tests, plus a solid four-star rollover rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick+ due to its best-possible performance in all crash tests and top scores for its standard accident avoidance tech. Its headlights were rated “Acceptable,” thus allowing it to get the Top Safety Pick+ prize.
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