For one, the Explorer continues to be the favored vehicle among public safety fleet managers. It is the second-best-selling model sold by Ford so far in 2022.
In 2019, we were pretty excited about the arrival of the Ford Explorer’s sixth generation. It packed a lot of promises, as it returned to a rear-drive platform and continued to offer a performance option with the ST model.
Instead of drudging up a few things from the past, the Explorer did achieve some success in a crowded segment. For one, it continues to be the favored vehicle among public safety fleet managers. It is the second-best-selling model sold by Ford so far in 2022.
Yet, I never got a chance to experience this generation of Explorer – or, even say one thing or another about it. That is until now.
What Ford sent to me was the 2022 Explorer in the new Timberline trim. This is Dearborn’s entry into the ruggedized SUV/crossover market where off-road ability – or, the want of off-road adventure – is the selling point for this type of model.
My approach to this particular Explorer is to not just focus on the Timberline trim. Rather, to talk about how this generation of Ford’s popular SUV remains a consumer mainstay.
Part of it comes from the shift from a front-drive SUV to a rear-drive one back in 2019. That gave Ford a return to its roots, even though it remained a unibody vehicle. This generation took the best design bits from its predecessor and applied to the new platform – hence why there is some similarities between the two versions of the Explorer.
While familiarity help ease the visual aspect of this SUV, a minor mid-cycle refresh for 2022 added two trim levels to the model’s mix. This is why the Timberline trim is featured in this review.
What the Timberline offers its outdoorsy active demographic is a trim is a specific grille, added LED light bars, 18-inch dark finished alloy wheels with all-terrain tires, and its own badges. This transform the run-of-the-mill Explorer into something that wants to play off the highway.
To its benefit, I like how the Explorer still sported a slanted front end for better frontward visibility. The doors open wide giving passengers greater access to all three rows. It is a very useful vehicle overall – all pointing to its popularity among consumers and fleets alike.
Inside, the Explorer is ergonomically pleasing. The mix of analog dials and a center digital screen makes things easier and simpler for everyone. The steering wheel has a set of logical controls, as does the rest of the cabin. As with most Ford models these days, the rotary knob shifter controls the transmission. There are a pair of paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for gear placement.
Ford touted their 10.1-inch portrait SYNC infotainment screen when this generation of the Explorer debuted. However, the Timberline is based on the value-laden XLT trim, Therefore, we get the 8-inch screen that is standard – driven by SYNC 3. A standard set of speakers send sound throughout the cabin.
This Timberline trim is adorned with heathered cloth inserts surrounded by what Ford calls ActiveX. The latter is sort of a leatherette upholstery. The black/gray trim is offset by Tangerine stitching all around. Front seating is comfortable with plenty of support for the driver and front passenger. The second Captain’s Chairs offer similar comfort and flexibility for all passengers. Third row seating is fine for some adults, but they’re better suited for children.
Cargo space is quite generous. It starts with an 18.2 cubic feet space behind the third row, that expands to 87.8 cubic feet behind the front seats. The best thing is that the third row seats fold flat to the rear cargo floor when they are lowered. That alone is worth 47.9 cubic feet of space.
While you have a choice of powerplants, my Explorer Timberline has the standard 300-horsepower 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It is connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission, sending power to all four wheels. There had been complaints that this engine might not be right for the Explorer. On the contrary, it is simply just fine. It accelerates decently and holds its own on the highway. I did find some hesitation in the transmission when it came down to going uphill.
The Drive Mode knob controls various traction settings for the four-wheel drive system. For making good work of the all-terrain tires, flip on Trail mode for off-highway use or Deep Snow/Sand for bad winter storms. Wet days call for the Slippery mode.
When it comes to fuel economy, I averaged 23.4 MPG. That’s pretty decent, if you ask me.
Ride quality was quite good overall. It is worth noting that the Timberline’s ground clearance is 8.66 inches, up from the standard 7.9 inches. As expected in most SUVs in its size class, handling is a bit on the soft side, yet it offers plenty of control in the corners.
Steering-wise, the Explorer offered a mixed bag. Turning radius was not bad, but at a cost of real wheel feel. On-center feel is on the softer side, as well. However, the brakes worked well with a responsive pedal feel. The system yielded good stops in normal and panic situations.
The Timberline offers plenty of value as the fourth model up in the 2022 Explorer line. This tester came with a sticker price of $47,540. The good news is that the Timberline is back for 2023, along with seven other Explorer trim levels. Pricing for the 2023 Explorer starts from $36,760 for a base model – up $1,250 from 2022.
Right off the bat, I am glad they overhauled this rendition of the Explorer from the previous generation. The rear-drive platform improves a lot of things about the vehicle dynamically an enables the expansion of drivelines – including a hybrid version. I am also glad they did not do anything revolutionary to its basic design on the outside, while improving ergonomics inside.
Keep in mind, it took a couple of model years to finally get my hands on this generation of Explorer. I’m not mad at Ford for that. It took patience to get the right combination to experience, evaluate and walk away with a positive conclusion overall from it. The Timberline was the right choice to see how this extremely popular SUV has evolved over the past few model years.
In all, the Ford Explorer is in the right spot for the market. Yet, it has plenty of competition to contend with. If you are looking for a three-row mid-size SUV, choose the one that works for you. But, please consider the Explorer when you do.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by the Ford Motor Company
All photos by Randy Stern