Long term test drive: 2012 Ford Explorer, part three car test drives reviews long term auto tests ford
2012 Ford Explorer Limited. Click image to enlarge

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Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2012 Ford Explorer

In a matter of weeks, I subjected my Explorer tester to what might be close to a year’s worth of heavy hauling – that was during the busy Christmas season at the Kanata Food Cupboard. Needless to say, I learned a few things along the way about what this truck is like to live with.

Related to the minivan comparison I made earlier in this series, another negative aspect of the Explorer’s elevated ride height is that getting in and out repeatedly – as I was doing – gets old fast. On the plus side, the Explorer’s doors, whose bottoms extend below the rocker panels, worked well at keeping my pant legs from getting soaked with slush in messy weather.

Speaking of messy weather, the Explorer’s all-wheel drive system works well, and the snow setting on the four-position mode selector was nice to have, as it dials back throttle response to reduce wheel spin on snow and ice. That helped get the truck moving, but it was very easy to overwhelm the stock tires’ grip in slush and deep snow. That’s not surprising, perhaps, but given how eager Ford is to market the Explorer’s off-road abilities, fitting it with more aggressive rubber would be a nice touch. Even better would be for Ford to put winters on its press vehicles, thus ensuring that an otherwise well-sorted truck like the Explorer puts its best traction forward in the hands of reviewers.

Long term test drive: 2012 Ford Explorer, part three car test drives reviews long term auto tests ford
2012 Ford Explorer Limited. Click image to enlarge

The V6-powered, all-wheel drive Explorer’s fuel consumption ratings are 12.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 on the highway. I rarely saw anything lower than 15 L/100 km, and in the cold weather Ottawa experienced in early January, it was closer to 17 L/100 km. At that rate, the Explorer seemed like it needed gas all the time. At least it runs on regular grade fuel.

A few things stood out about the Explorer’s cargo hauling abilities. My tester had Ford’s optional power-folding third-row seats, which are convenient, but take longer to stow and unfold than the standard manual rear seats. On a couple of occasions, the switches (found on the left-side of the cargo area) got bumped by packed-in cargo, causing the seats on one side to start folding, as if the car was trying to eat the food I was hauling around.

I had help loading the truck following a food drive at a local elementary school; a couple of the sixth-graders climbed into the back, onto the stowed seatbacks, while others passed boxes to them. Good system, except for the bit where I thought the seat mechanism had been broken in the process, as the seat would no longer fold flat. Turns out a lever connecting two parts of the folding mechanism came out of its bracket and was an easy fix, but that suggests to me that bits of this truck’s interior could be a little more robust, considering its 650-kg payload.

Long term test drive: 2012 Ford Explorer, part three car test drives reviews long term auto tests ford
2012 Ford Explorer Limited. Click image to enlarge

I thought that a few weeks in this truck would put me on better terms with the MyFord Touch system, but no dice – I disliked it as much when I returned the truck as I did the first time I drove an Explorer in the spring of 2011. Having to wait for the system to boot up in order to turn on the heated seat in cold weather is truly a first-world problem, but an annoyance nonetheless. Ford says it has made some improvements for 2013 models, but I’ll wait for first-hand experience to pass judgement.

I estimate the Explorer and I moved something like five tons of food, an amount that works out to almost 10 per cent of the 112,845 pounds (more than 51,000 kg) the Kanata Food Cupboard collected in December 2011. I was just one of more than 800 volunteers who donated 2,576 hours of their time in December. It was a serious workout for me, and a welcome opportunity to push the limits of a vehicle built not for speed or sporty handling, but for the mundane task of moving lots of stuff. The Explorer acquitted itself well, but the workout I put it through revealed a few of the compromises inherent in crossovers like the Explorer, which tries to combine car-based driving dynamics and SUV capabilities, to mixed results. It served the purpose, however, and for that much, Explorer, the clients of the Kanata Food Cupboard thank you.