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An expedition to Subic with the Ford Explorer

A day in the life of a make-believe owner

The Explorer is an aspirational Ford model that many Filipinos look up to owning, aside from the Mustang and the Bronco. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Sitting at the top of the Ford Philippines SUV pile is the Explorer.

This P3,498,000 three-row family hauler is the aspirational model that fans of the Blue Oval brand would look to for the prestige of owning a proudly American-made SUV.

It ain’t cheap, so it’s safe to say that owners of the model would embark on luxurious escapes. This is exactly what the automaker wanted to emulate as it took us on a drive up north to Subic Bay, where we would enjoy a sunset cruise on a yacht.

Nothing out there has the same road presence as a Ford Explorer. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

First off, some housekeeping. Yes, we don’t have the facelift. But even then, that model still isn’t being sold in the United States until sometime later this year, meaning we aren’t getting leftovers from the US inventory.

The sixth-generation Explorer was quietly launched locally during the pandemic, and was also a victim of chip shortages—hence limited stocks pretty much everywhere. But as the world slowly got back to its old groove, supply normalized, and Ford Philippines is now ready to serve customers looking to get one.

It’s slightly unfortunate as this makes the SUV a product of its time, and it kind of shows.

Yes, that is a PIN-code lock for the door. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Fortunately, its exterior has aged quite well. Unlike its more rugged siblings, the Explorer has a stately look that only the nameplate can pull off, with soft, curvy lines, an authoritative front fascia, and polished silver-finish and 20-inch wheels shod by run-flat tires (255/55).

It’s so well-proportioned that it hides its girth. It’s a full-size SUV here, measuring 5,049mm long, 2,268mm wide, and 1,783mm tall. In fact, it makes the slab-sided Everest deceivingly bigger, even if that is a midsize SUV.

The first row is properly lavish. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

It’s undoubtedly a premium interior with high-grade materials and trim like wood veneer, leather, satin silver plastics, and some high-end features.

There’s a great-sounding 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, a wireless charger, heated and ventilated seats, power adjustments for nearly everything (except the second row), a panoramic sunroof, triple-zone climate control, and ambient lighting.

Sounds great on paper, yet some things are amiss.

Some things like these are unacceptable for a car that costs almost P3.5 million. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

In this day and age of large, edge-to-edge screens in premium cars, the tiny eight-inch screen with thick bezels feels out of place. In fact, the US model has a portrait 10.1-inch screen available.

In our unit with around 970km on the odometer, there were some notable build quality anomalies, like how the glovebox was out of alignment. You could see the outline of the passenger airbag on the dashboard, and some leather trim wasn’t tucked in the rear-right door card.

Not exactly great first impressions on a car worth almost P3.5 million.

Oodles of space, but we feel captain's seats would've been a better choice for the second row. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

But set that aside and you have a very practical family hauler. It’s fairly roomy inside with plentiful large storage spaces, and the interior seats are in a 2-3-2 configuration.

There’s a generous amount of elbow room and legroom, but the panoramic sunroof does eat into the headroom for the second row. The heated rear bench is somewhat flat, and cannot recline all the way.

There’s also an unusually large gap on the edges, meaning long journeys in the second row can get a bit uncomfortable. At least, there are second-row sunshades and plenty of charging options available.

Folding the rear seats down is as easy as pressing a button. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The third-row seats are power-operated, and there’s a decent amount of legroom and headroom for my 5’10” frame. Bonus points for the multiple cubbyholes and airplane-style ceiling vents. And with the seats down, there is a lot of space for cargo.

Ford has managed to make a four-banger powerful enough, and tamed its 10-speed transmission for a comfortable ride. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The 2.4-liter turbocharged in-line-four EcoBoost gasoline mill initially was a big question mark over our heads. Fortunately, the downsizing from the V6 did not affect performance, as the motor loves to haul ass with 300hp and 420Nm going to all four wheels. It does so with a throaty growl, which is a bonus.

The 10-speed automatic is rather tame here and doesn’t exhibit as much gear-hunting, but it seems to get confused at times at lower speeds.

This is no sporty SUV, but a comfortable cruiser made for long journeys on American freeways. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

But once at expressway speeds, the car sits rather comfortably without any questions. It’s really quiet, with a softly sprung ride that’s better off for soaking up miles on American freeways, rather than making the next grocery haul an exciting jaunt on the back roads.

All that weight can be felt in two places: the excessive body roll and the fuel economy. Despite doing expressways the majority of the time, our Explorer never broke the 9.6km/L mark. Not bad, but be prepared to fuel this up a lot.

The vehicle also has seven different drive modes, but you’ll probably leave it in Normal as Eco affects acceleration a lot, and Sport only holds revs further.

It's a bit odd that there are some software-locked features when the hardware is present. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The Ford Co-Pilot360 advanced driver-assist systems also worked really well, such as the lane-keeping assist, the blind spot monitor, and the slightly naggy adaptive cruise control function.

Oddly enough, the hardware for a 360° camera setup is present, but only the rear-facing camera works. And do note that the driver’s side mirror is also magnified, which can be disorienting at times.

The current Explorer has a strong following, even if its competitors may be significantly newer. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Don’t get me wrong. This is still a solid premium three-row SUV. But when you consider the likes of the Hyundai Palisade and Santa Fe, the Subaru Evoltis, the Mazda CX-90, and even the Jeep Grand Cherokee L, these are significantly more modern and (arguably) built better, so things start looking tough for the Explorer.

But even if it’s an aging model, it’s genuinely surprising to see how many of them are plying the roads of central business districts and private subdivisions. This shows how many die-hard Ford fans are still eager to get their hands on one.

This experiential drive leaves me excited for when Ford Philippines introduces the updated sixth-generation model. Hopefully, by then, we’ll see the full potential of a vehicle that was unfortunately affected by the pandemic.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.