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All Explorers are have three rows of seats and seat up to seven passengers. A 3.5-liter V6 with 290 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic, is the standard powertrain and it's available with either front or four-wheel drive. The four-wheel drive system doesn't have a low range, but boasts Ford's Terrain Management system that allows the driver to select the road surface. Electronics in the system alter the way power is sent to the wheels to cope with things like rocks and snow. It tries to give the car-based Explorer off- road capability more in line with a traditional SUV like a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
See what other SUVs are getting praise with our 2013 SUV buying guide
Optional on front-wheel drive Explorers is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, one of Ford's EcoBoost variants. Even though it's small, the engine packs 240 horsepower and gives the big Explorer best-in-class fuel economy of up to 28 MPG highway. This compares to the V6's highest rating of 25 MPG highway. Newly available is the EcoBoost V6, only available on the Sport model. It turns out 350 horsepower. Explorers can tow up to 5,000 lbs. with the V6, but 2.0-liter models max out at 2,000 lbs.
All Explorers get power amenities, air conditioning, six-way power driver's seat, 17-inch wheels, six-speaker audio system with AUX input and a raft of safety features that includes full-length curtain airbags, front and side front passenger airbags and a rollover protection program. XLT models add SiriusXM radio and rear parking sensors. Limited trim boasts leather seats, HD radio and MyFord Touch. The new Sport trim has the EcoBoost V6, sport seats and 20-inch alloy wheels.
In terms of the competition, the Chevrolet Traverse can seat up to eight, instead of the Explorer's seven. It also has more cargo space overall. But the Traverse doesn't have as sophisticated of a four-wheel drive system and only offers one engine. The Honda Pilot also seats up to eight and can be cheaper than a similarly equipped Explorer, but lacks many high-tech options and has hit-or-miss styling. The Toyota Highlander is quiet, soft-riding and offers a four-cylinder. But the Toyota is more cramped inside. The Mazda CX-9 is more agile and is less expensive than the Explorer, but its infotainment systems are a generation behind.
Overall, the Explorer is a solid choice for a three-row crossover if safety and having the latest in-car technology is high on the list. It is also a competent seven-seater that offers many engine choices and has a more sophisticated four-wheel drive system than other crossovers.
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