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Explorer is a changed SUV

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm •  Published: December 26, 2012

But the Explorer no longer has a transfer case and locking differential for rugged off-roading.

Indeed, the test Explorer Limited seemed as luxurious as a luxury sedan — except everyone sat high up from the pavement.

People in the front two seats had good views out above most other vehicles on the roads. But the driver has no real view of what's immediately ahead of the Explorer hood, which sits high and imposing. Likewise, the rearview camera and reverse sensing system were a must, as it was impossible to see if anything low was behind the Explorer.

The rear camera is standard on the pricey Limited and Sport models but is part of a $1,500 option package on the XLT trim model and not offered from the factory on the base Explorer.

But, Ford has added or offers a host of other safety items on the Explorer, including a first-ever front-passenger knee air bag to help keep the rider from slipping under the dashboard during a frontal collision.

Curtain air bags for the first two rows of seats also are standard, as is traction control with electronic Roll Stability Control that seeks to avert rollovers.

Then there are the optional rear inflatable seat belts for the two outboard passengers in the second row. This is where children typically ride, and these new belt-mounted air bags help distribute crash forces across a larger body area to reduce the potential for injury. There are no reported injuries from use of these belts. But some child safety seat manufacturers have advised caution in using these belts with child safety seats. Parents can consult child seat manufacturers for the seat they purchase.

Among the other safety items: the startling-at-first collision warning system that flashes red lights on the driver windshield if the system senses the Explorer may rear-end a vehicle ahead. Thankfully, Ford engineers include a control to allow drivers to tailor the spacing between cars to avoid frequent red-light warnings.

The 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 in the tester worked smoothly with the six-speed automatic transmission to deliver power readily and steadily, despite the heft of the 4,700-pound Explorer.

The sensation isn't instantaneous, and 0 to 60 miles an hour takes a reasonable-for-an-SUV 8 seconds.

With a majority of the miles driven on city streets or dirt paths, the test Explorer Limited averaged 18 mpg, which is under the 19-mpg combined city/highway rating from the government. With a fuel tank holding 18.6 gallons, this amounted to a range of just 334 miles. The Durango's fuel tank holds 24.6 gallons, in comparison.

Consumer Reports magazine ranks the Explorer much worse than average for reliability.