2013 Ford Explorer Review and Prices

Last Updated: Mar 30, 2012

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2013 Ford Explorer Buying Advice

The 2013 Ford Explorer is the best SUV for you if you want a seven-passenger crossover that evokes a rough-and-tumble image and offers an array of high-tech features and powertrains.

The 2013 Ford Explorer adds a top-of-the-line 2013 Explorer Sport model that uses a turbocharged V-6 to compete with rivals’ less fuel-efficient V-8s. The 2013 Explorer should otherwise continue with only minor changes after undergoing a full redesign for model-year 2011 and gaining a turbocharged four-cylinder engine for model-year 2012. Ford says the 2013 Explorer Sport is designed to compete with Hemi-V-8-powered Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durango R/Ts and to rival the performance of the Ranger Rover Sport at thousands of dollars less. Ford claims it’ll be America’s most fuel-efficient performance-oriented SUV.

Should you wait for the 2013 Ford Explorer or buy a 2012 Ford Explorer? Wait for the 2013 Explorer if you’re hot for the Sport model with Ford’s 350-plus horsepower EcoBoost V-6 and the exclusive styling touches that go with it. Addition of the Sport model is likely the only major change in store for the 2013 Explorer, so buy a 2012 Explorer if any of the less aggressive models fits your needs. And with reports speculating that all Explorers could receive freshened styling as early as model-year 2014, buying a 2012 gets you an Explorer that would not look dated quite so quickly. Plus you’d avoid likely 2013 model-changeover price increases.

2013 Ford Explorer Changes back to top

Styling: While the 2013 Sport model gets exclusive styling details, mainstream 2013 Ford Explorer’s probably won’t get substantive cosmetic alterations beyond an additional exterior color or two and perhaps a fresh wheel design. Every 2013 Explorer will share a body that eschews the sculpted shapes and curvier rooflines of some rival crossovers for the square-cut exterior treatment this popular SUV received in its model-year 2011 redesign.  

The 2013 Ford Explorer won’t change dimensionally, remaining about average for the midsize-SUV class. But unlike some SUVs its size, which seat only five passengers on two rows of seats, the 2013 Explorer will continue to accommodate seven thanks to a standard third-row bench seat. Expect Ford to continue to offer optional center-row dual captain’s chairs for six-passenger capacity.

This is not a minivan, however, so as with all three-row midsize SUVs, Explorer’s rearmost seating area is difficult to get into or out of. Adults can fit without feeling too claustrophobic but it’s better suited to teens or kids. To accommodate cargo, the third-row seat will continue to fold even with the rear floor on a 60/40 split basis and the second-row seats will fold and tip forward to maximize carrying space.

The 2013 Ford Explorer’s interior should continue to be tastefully trimmed in faux aluminum accents and feature a sweeping dashboard design highlighted by a large center stack of controls that houses an LCD video display. Cloth seats should again come standard, with leather upholstery optional.

Beyond the new top-of-the-line Sport model, the 2013 Ford Explorer should reprise three familiar trim levels, each offering additional features and progressively higher cost. Expect the Base model, volume-selling XLT, and feature-laden Limited to return.

Differentiating the 2013 Explorer Sport are unique 20-inch alloy wheels, blacked-out headlamp and taillamp treatments, black roof rack rails and mirrors. It more aggressively styled grille wears gray mesh with contrasting ebony bars. The black front lower fascia features a functional opening for additional cooling. On the hood’s leading edge is Explorer logotype in billet-like black and on the liftgate is a special appliqué and Sport and EcoBoost badges.

Mechanical: Addition of the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport brings a third engine to Explorer’s powertrain roster. The Sport’s V-6 is also found in such performance-oriented Fords as the Taurus SHO sport sedan. A member of Ford’s EcoBoost engine family, the 3.5-liter employs two turbochargers and advanced direct fuel injection to deliver V-8-style thrust with V-6 levels of fuel economy. This engine is rated at 365 horsepower in the 2012 Taurus SHO and at 355 horsepower in the Ford Flex crossover – both of which share Explorer’s basic underbody architecture. Torque is listed at 350 pound-feet in both the SHO and Flex.

At the time of this review, Ford would say only that the 2013 Explorer Sport would have more than 350 horsepower. Like the other Explorers, the Sport will have a six-speed automatic transmission but it’ll be the only one with steering-wheel paddles (like the SHO) to facilitate manual-type gear control. Ford says the Sport’s performance capabilities will be complimented by brakes 53 percent larger than those on the other Explorers, plus suspension upgrades and structural reinforcements. Ford’s all-wheel-drive Terrain Management System is standard on the 2013 Sport and is calibrated to optimize performance and handling.      

Don’t look for mainstream versions of the 2013 Ford Explorer to get significant mechanical updates. Like the Sport, they’ll continue on car-based chassis but will offer both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (AWD). A non-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 should remain the 2013 Explorer’s standard engine. It should continue at or near 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the pushing energy behind acceleration, horsepower as the force that sustains momentum). That’s more than adequate to propel a vehicle this size and weight with fair authority and is competitive with the V-6s in other similarly priced midsize crossovers.

Expected to return as an extra-cost option on the 2013 Explorer is a single-turbo 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. This engine has high-tech direct-fuel injection and should again generate around 237 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. The EcoBoost four should again be Explorer’s most fuel-efficient engine, though it still won’t be available with AWD. And if you want to tow anything above its 2,000-trailering limit, you’ll need either of the V-6s, which will remain rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Expect the 2013 Explorer XLT and Limited models to again include a manual-type gear-select mode for their six-speed automatic transmission’s floor shifter.

Though the 2013 Ford Explorer still won’t be as off-road capable as truck-like SUVs that offer four-wheel-drive systems with low-range gearing, it should again prove surprisingly adept away from the pavement. That’s because AWD versions of the 2013 Explorer will likely again come standard with Ford’s Terrain Management System. It was developed back when the automaker owned off-road specialist Land Rover (and is likewise included in Land Rover models).

Terrain Management allows the driver to optimize the Explorer’s powertrain, suspension, and braking-system performance to maximize traction according to four separate modes. Engaged via a center console dial, these should again include settings for normal pavement, snow, sand, and mud/ruts. It will likely also feature a hill descent control function that automatically shifts the transmission into a lower gear and engages the brakes when the Explorer is traversing a steep downgrade.

All 2013 Ford Explorers will also continue with four-wheel antilock disc brakes with antilock technology for more controlled emergency stops and antiskid stability assist to help prevent skidding out in severe handling maneuvers. Ford calls this integrated system AdvanceTrak and it should again include Roll Stability Control that automatically activates antiskid measures to help prevent rollovers in crisis handling situations. Also along for the ride will be the automaker’s Curve Control technology that automatically cuts engine power by as much as 10 mph in about a second and selectively applies the brakes to help keep the Explorer on track if the driver is taking a turn too quickly.

Features: The 2013 Ford Explorer should continue with an ample selection of standard features, with a wealth of available high-tech options. All 2013 Ford Explorers will include seat-mounted side airbags for the driver and front passenger and head-protecting side curtain airbags for all three seating rows that are designed to activate in side impacts as well as rollovers. Ford’s innovative self-inflating rear-seat safety belts should again be optional to help reduce head, chest and neck injuries that might otherwise be caused by a conventional seatbelt in a crash.

Also standard should again be Ford’s MyKey feature, which allows parents of teen drivers to limit the vehicle’s top speed and audio volume, and to enforce seatbelt use. The 2013 Ford Explorer base model will likely come standard with items like a CD audio system, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and 17-inch aluminum wheels and tires. The XLT should again add features like fog lamps, a reverse proximity alarm system for easier and safer parking, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription, and 18-inch aluminum wheels.

As the luxury-leader in the line, the 2013 Explorer Limited should again come fully packed with first-class amenities like adjustable brake/accelerator pedals, a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, leather upholstery, power heated front seats, a 110-volt power outlet, and 20-inch wheels and tires.

The 2013 Explorer Sport will mirror the Limited’s features but with charcoal black leather-trimmed seating available with and without contrasting tan inserts. Explorer Sport also will have unique steering wheel stitching, a technical look to instrument and door panel appliqués, unique Sport-logo floor mats, and illuminated scuff plates.

Along with the 2013 Explorer Limited, the Sport also will come standard with the controversial MyFord Touch operating system. Expected to continue as an option on the XLT, MyFord Touch was developed in conjunction with Sony. It substitutes conventional switches, buttons, and dials for a complex array of menu-driven touch-screen displays and dashboard “touch points” to control most systems and settings. The idea behind MyFord Touch was to help lure younger and more tech-savvy buyers to Ford, but early adopters generally found the system difficult to learn and distracting to operate. Ford is phasing in a second-generation version of the system with improvements to graphics, controls, and voice-recognition software intended to might make it easier to master.

Fortunately, many 2013 Explorer operations will again be executed alternatively via conventional controls on the steering wheel and Ford’s excellent Sync multimedia control system. Likely to remain optional on the base model and standard on the XLT and Limited, Sync allows motorists to operate the audio system (including iPods and iPhones connected via an included USB interface), Bluetooth mobile phones and the optional navigation system entirely by voice commands. The 2013 Ford Explorer will likely include the latest version of Sync that further includes the ability to wirelessly stream music and select Web-based data—including Twitter text messages read aloud by a synthesized voice—via a linked smartphone.

A bevy of options on the 2013 Ford Explorer should again include a dual-panel moonroof, power liftgate, and Ford’s Active Park Assist system that actually steers the vehicle into a parallel parking space while the driver simply modulates the brake pedal.

Returning on the safety side, the available adaptive cruise control system should again come with a collision warning system that gives a visual and audible alert and primes the brakes to full stopping power if the car is coming up too quickly on a stopped vehicle or obstruction. Also standard on the Sport and likely optional on other 2013 Explorers will be Ford’s Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert (BLIS) that warns drivers if other vehicles are alongside the Explorer but are outside the driver’s field of vision on the highway, or when other cars are approaching from the side when backing out of a parking space or garage.

2013 Ford Explorer Prices back to top

Prices for the 2013 Ford Explorer weren’t announced in time for this review but don’t expect huge increases for returning versions. For base through Limited Explorers, figure a base-price range around $29,500-$41,000. For the 2013 Explorer Sport, a base price around $45,000 seems plausible. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Ford’s fee for the 2012 Explorer was $825.)

Expect the 2013 Explorer Base version to be priced from around $29,500 with front-wheel drive and $31,500 with AWD. Estimated base for the 2013 Explorer XLT is $33,000 with front-wheel drive, $35,000 with AWD. Expect the 2013 Explorer Limited be priced from around $39,000 with front drive, $41,000 with AWD.

The EcoBoost four-cylinder engine should again be available on all three 2013 Explorer models as an option priced around $1,000. It’s likely to remain available only in combination with front-wheel drive, however.

Among key 2013 Explorer options, adding Sync to the base model should again cost around $300. On XLT and Limited models, a navigation system should be priced about $800, while the dual-panel moonroof should again cost around $1,600.

Ford is likely to maintain an all-in option package for the 2013 Explorer Limited that’ll include such items as the EcoBoost engine, a power-folding third-row seat, heated/cooled front seats, the navigation system, Active Park Assist, and the blind-spot and collision-warning systems. Expect ti to add some $6,300 to the base price.

2013 Ford Explorer Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2013 Ford Explorer weren’t available in time for this review but should not change for the base V-6 and EcoBoost four-cylinder engines.  

This means a 2013 Ford Explorer with the standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine should again rate around 17/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined with front drive and 17/23/19 mpg with AWD. That should keep the 2013 Explorer’s fuel economy competitive with most of its V-6-powered competitors.

For 2013 Ford Explorers equipped with the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, expect ratings of 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined. That would keep in it comparable to smaller compact five-passenger crossovers that come with far less powerful four-cylinder engines.

Ford itself projects ratings for the 2013 Explorer Sport of “up to 16 mpg in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway.” It anticipates this will be 3 mpg better in the city and 2 mpg on the highway than the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango R/T with their 5.7-liter Hemi-V-8, which likely will retain ratings of some 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque for model-year 2013. Ford says the 2013 Explorer Sport will rate 3 mpg higher in the city and 4 mpg higher on the highway than the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, a five-passenger luxury SUV with 375-horsepower V-8 and a base price around $61,000.

2013 Ford Explorer Release Date back to top

The 2013 Ford Explorer should arrive in dealerships by the end of summer 2012.

What's next for the 2013 Ford Explorer back to top

The Ford Explorer is due for a midcycle update for model-year 2014 or 2015 that should freshen the styling and add a few features. Some of the appearance tweaks introduced with the 2013 Explorer Sport could well carry over to the entire model line.

Explorer’s next full redesign probably won’t occur until two model years after its midcycle freshening, meaning 2016 or so. The next-generation Explorer will likely continue to share a platform and components with the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS full-size sedans and, assuming one or both remain in production, the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT midsize crossover SUVs.

The next-generation model could come standard with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, with perhaps even a smaller and more efficient non-turbo four-cylinder powerplant available to help Ford meet stricter fuel economy regulations that phase in through model-year 2016. Explorer is likely to continue to offer a V-6, but whether it would be a version of the existing naturally aspirated and EcoBoost 3.5-liters or some other more advanced design is uncertain.

With even higher federal fuel-economy standards on the way for the 2020s expect a future-generation Ford Explorer to make use of lighter-weight materials to help boost its mileage. Future Explorers will likely keep the current model’s rugged persona to better differentiate it from Ford’s other crossovers that take a less visually truck-like approach to people moving.

We could see a plug-in hybrid version of a future Explorer that could run for 20 miles or more solely on battery power. A full electric model might not be out of the question if demand for such cars skyrockets and installation of mobile charging kiosks in gas stations, parking lots, and public facilities becomes widespread.

2013 Ford Explorer Competition back to top

Jeep Grand Cherokee: Like the Explorer, the Grand Cherokee is based on a car-like unibody construction, yet is built rugged enough to tackle the toughest terrain. Multiple four-wheel-drive systems should again be offered including Jeep’s Selec-Terrain, which is similar to Explorer’s Terrain Management system. Unlike the Explorer, however, the Jeep should continue to offer a choice of old-school V-8 engines as alternatives to a base V-6, though future fuel economy regulations may force Jeep to rethink its priorities. For 2013 these should again consist of a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 at around 360 horsepower and, in SRT8 versions, a rip-roaring 6.4-liter Hemi that for 2012 generated 470 horses. The Grand Cherokee seats only five passengers, though Jeep is said to be working on a seven-passenger version for model-year 2015; it could be called the Grand Wagoneer.

Chevrolet Traverse: The popular seven-passenger Traverse is scheduled to undergo a restyle for model-year 2013. Chevy describes it as “more refined” and says it’ll mark the industry debut of a front center airbag designed to provide a cushion between the driver and front passenger in a side collision. Overall, the 2013 Traverse won’t stray far from its successful formula. It’ll continue to share architecture with the GMC Acadia and upscale Buick Enclave, the latter to also be re-skinned for model-year 2013. Accompanying the Traverse restyling would be upgrades to interior design and materials. A 3.6-liter V-6 engine will likely remain, though a turbocharged 3.0-liter version has been rumored. The 2013 Traverse should remain front-drive with AWD available. As with other midsize GM vehicles the Traverse could be in line for a fuel-saving “mild hybrid” version with a four-cylinder engine that gets a slight power boost from a small electric motor and automatically shuts down while decelerating and at idle. Expect to see more in the way of infotainment and in-car connectivity, thanks to Chevy’s new My Link system.

Honda Pilot: Minor styling updates for model-year 2012 helped smooth out the front end, but like the Explorer, the 2013 Honda Pilot will retain the boxy exterior profile that dates to model-year 2009 and its last full redesign. A seven-seater, the 2013 Pilot will return with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive but just one engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 that should again generate around 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. Pilot remains behind the times with a five-speed automatic transmission, though its V-6 can automatically idle two or three cylinders at cruising speeds to conserve fuel. A full redesign in expected for model-year 2014; it’s won’t come soon enough, though the 2013 Honda will remain an exceedingly well-packaged family crossover that’s quite driver-friendly, too.

UPDATED CHUCK GIAMETTA

2013 Ford Explorer Next Steps