The Ford Explorer is an icon of toughness, used in remote regions around the world. CEO Middle East sees how it fares in GCC conditions.
When the Ford Explorer first roared on to the US driving scene it was as though a new dawn had shone on the SUV market. For over a decade, and despite some safety concerns in the early years from which the car's image was tarnished by association, the Explorer ruled supreme as the King of the American road.
Sadly, despite design changes and image overhauls, the good people at Ford seems pretty content to rest on those laurels and the brand lags sorely behind its competition. And there is no shortage of that in the Middle East automotive market.
The problem isn't that the Explorer is a particularly bad car, it's that the competition (including other offerings from the same stable such as the Escape and the Edge) has moved on.
To give credit where it's due, as an off-roader the Explorer is aptly named. The classic truck underpinnings mean that you can knock it about to your hearts content and not have to worry about inflicting any incidental damage on the chassis.
The steering is suitably responsive and the independent rear suspension helps it to keep firmly on the ground, making it a much calmer drive than offerings such as Dodge's Durango. It even looks the part of a rugged, no-nonsense machine, anyone's idealised idea of what an off-roader should be.
From a safety perspective the Explorer does well. Airbags come as standard throughout the interior in the 2008 model. The makers have also installed a Roll Stability Control system, in which a gyro sensor measures the car's roll speed and angle and activates the regular stability control system if it judges a roll-over to be imminent.
In the US the Explorer also scored the maximum five-star standard in all frontal and side impact tests run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The size also matches up well, with the boot space coming complete with an extra two seats, bringing the passenger total up to seven, or leaving plenty of room (especially with the back seats down) for transporting pretty much anything you could need.
The pulling power is also impressive and for the hardy outdoor driver can come in useful for hauling trailers, cars or other loads, which would come in handy if the Explorer is an investment for a work drive involving off road activities such as farming or construction.But, in essence, that may be where the makers are going wrong for the local market. The majority of potential customers are looking for SUVs that will spend 90% of their time in the city, and that is where the Explorer falls down.
To begin with there is the engine. It's certainly quiet, but whereas in Infiniti's QX or Audi's Q7 this would belie a sleeping giant ready to spring into action, in the Explorer it's sadly more of a napping dwarf.
The 4.0 Litre V6 can pull together 210hp (the 4.6 V8 manages a marginally improved 295hp), which makes it fall far, far short of the competition. In case this feels harsh to Ford, it's not. The smaller Edge crossover manages to garner 265hp in its standard model.
Acceleration is truly miserable, which is not noticeable when driving off road but particularly difficult to swallow when trying to overtake in town. Any vehicle with an engine of this size should be able to manage a 0-100 acceleration without reaching double figures (we easily hit 10 seconds).
Our model also came without the proximity sensors that we've come to take for granted in every other similar SUV on the market, which combined with the sluggish steering, made manoeuvring in and out of mall parking slots a lot harder than it needed to be, especially as the high bonnet partially obscures the driver's vision.
On the other hand, I would hazard a guess that anything we hit would have come off far the worse.
Overall a mixed bag. The relatively low cost makes the Explorer an interesting proposition for an entry-level SUV. The workmanlike interior does the job without unnecessary gadgets, there is plenty of room inside and it's extremely safe, a consideration not to be ignored.
Off road it's great fun and it is one of the hardiest cars on the road that you won't be afraid to scratch a little. Unfortunately it loses out to most of it's competitors on most aspects of city driving and can leave you feeling frustrated with its lack of response.
Verdict:A rugged, sturdy off-road vehicle but perhaps not the car of choice for the city-dwellers that form most of the Middle Eastern market.
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