2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid Limited AWD
This week, we have had a chance to review the new Ford Explorer Hybrid. You are probably seeing them every day, especially as government vehicles. There is a reason why it is one of the best popular models because it is suitable for many different types of needs. It can be practical, it can be fast, and most importantly, it has been a very reliable alternative for government institutions. In the world of Crossovers and SUVs, the Explorer has always been known Ford launched the current generation Explorer two years ago, which means it is still a new platform. Compared to the previous generation, Ford improved its high-selling product in many aspects. One of the most important new features is the availability of a hybrid engine that delivers significantly better fuel mileage without being slow compared to other models. Our test shows how it performs with the hybrid engine, and whether this option is a good alternative not only for government officers but also for personal use.
Exterior and Interior
In the past, domestic SUVs used to have usually a sort of boring, or dull design language, which is no longer the case with the new Explorer. It has a big grille in the front, headlights are shaped around the grille, as well as a huge front bumper that makes the car look more upscale and actually bigger than what it is. The hybrid version does not have any specific design features, it looks very similar to the regular gas engine version.
Don’t let the “Limited” word fool you, it is not the top trim like many other brands. In fact, it is just one step above the base trim, and it is actually the base trim if you are looking for the Hybrid version. Of course, it comes with Hybrid specific wheels, but it is not really an ugly design like many other hybrid vehicles. 20″ 10 spoke alloy wheels are standard with the Limited Hybrid trim which is is a great match with the rest of the Explorer.
Like the front end, we liked the rear design of the new Explorer. There are nice strong body lines going through all the way to the back, merges with the taillights. It has a chrome Explorer badge and has unpainted surfaces to make it look more rugged. Unlike some European and Asian entries, this one actually comes with real exhaust tips, which we really appreciate this decision, considering this is a hybrid model, they could have watered down the rear end design by putting fake exhaust vents/tips, but fortunately, they didn’t do that.
The interior design of the Explorer is very much the same through its model lineup, so you would not be able to see any difference in the Hybrid version. When we first get inside the Explorer, it very much felt like a typical big American SUV, where console layout is pretty easy to live with, but it lacks some refinement and overall build quality. Having said that, it is still an improvement compared to the last generation, there are few quality control issues throughout the interior. For instance, one of the interior lights was hanging from the headliner and that’s something that you wouldn’t see in a German SUV.
Aside from few issues, it is a nice place to spend hours on the highway. Seat comfort is good, everything where you usually touch is usually wrapped with leather or soft-touch plastics, unlike the center console. Like the other newer Ford models, it comes with a rotary shifter which is easy to use, but you may want to have an actual shifter just that you can put your hand on it on long drives. Material choices are good in the center console, we appreciate that Ford decided not to use any kind of glossy/piano black in the interior. We like the fact that it comes with many storage options in the front, lots of storage accommodations in the front seat area and in the center console.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available with the Explorer, but if you want to navigate through the infotainment system, you need to be patient in some cases. We like the overall looks of the software, it can sometimes be quite laggy. Also, the screen may look smaller compared to today’s standards, but we would prefer this one more than the bigger screen which looks like a tablet stuck in the middle of the console.
As it is a big 3-row SUV, it has plenty of legroom in the second seat row, but the important point is having enough space in the third row. Obviously, the Explorer is not as large as the Expedition, therefore it comes with less overall interior space.
Limited trim does not come with captain chairs in the second row, and the middle seat does not move. It may affect overall practicality in a bad way, as there is only one way to get in and out to the 3rd-row seats. 3rd-row seats, like most SUVs, are placed higher than the 2nd row, which means you have limited headroom.
One of the strongest selling points of any kind of 3 row SUV is the overall cargo practicality, and the Explorer is a great option if that’s your priority. Behind the third row, it has 18.2 (515 lt) of cargo space, which can go up to 47.9 cubic feet (1356 lt) if you fold down the 3rd row. If you want maximum cargo space available, you need to fold down all rear seats, which can go up to 87.8 cubic feet (2486 lt) of total cargo space.
Engine and Drivetrain
2021 Ford Explorer comes with several different options, including one 4 cylinder turbocharged, one turbocharged V6 and our tester with the naturally aspirated V6 as the hybrid engine. The hybrid engine is matched with a 3.3L naturally aspirated engine that produces 318 combined horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque with the help of an electric motor and battery pack. Thanks to the help of the electric engine, it has a lot of torque down low rpm.
If you need more power, you may need to select the sporty ST trim, which combines twin turbos with the V6 engine that pumps out 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. However, for daily driving, our Hybrid unit is perfectly fine, unless you are expecting a sports car level of performance out of it.
Living with the Hybrid V6 engine is pretty easy day-to-day basis. When you coast the engine, it stops running and starts charging the battery pack. It also stops the engine when you brake, which gets you significantly more mileage in the long run. Our average consumption was 11.5L / 100 km, which is very impressive considering its weight and overall size.
Like many other modern Ford products, our tester comes with regular torque converted 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Compared to the Mustang EcoBoost we reviewed last year, this transmission is much smoother, but still, it can sometimes be jerky especially at low speeds. Please see our Mustang review here.
Ford found a nice tune in terms of suspension setup, it is not stiff but can still deal with the additional weight of the hybrid engines, and overall size of the car. There is some body roll if you are taking corners fast, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a heavy SUV, having a unibody frame is a big advantage in terms of driving dynamics. As long as you know your and your car’s limits, Explorer can handle more than enough.
Pricing and the Verdict
It’s not easy to say that the new Explorer is a revolution in any kind of way, as this is more like an evolution from the previous generation, but there is a significant improvement. One of the most important ones is that finally, it’s back to its roots, meaning it comes with longitudinal engine platforms and as a result all of them are rear-wheel drive biased systems, giving you more confidence in terms of driving dynamics.
Another evolutionary improvement is the overall design of the vehicle. Granted, Explorer has been good-looking SUVs, usually having masculine body lines and this is no exception. This is probably the best-looking Explorer ever, as it combines masculine body lines, as well as sporty design elements successfully. It has always been the solid choice if you are into American 3-row SUVs, and with the latest generation, it just got better.
There are millions of SUVs flooded in the market, but if you are especially looking for a domestic one with a Hybrid engine option, Ford Explorer might be a good fit for you. 2021 Ford Explorer starts at $44,549 with the base (XLT) trim, and if you want the Explorer with the Hybrid engine, Limited trim is the only option, which starts at $54,799.
For details of the pricing and equipment of our tester, please see the window sticker below:
For more details, please visit www.ford.ca
Article and Photos by Dan Gunay