2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD
2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD. Click image to enlarge

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The ultimate grocery-getter?

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2012 Ford Explorer

You may know me by day as an automotive writer, helping consumers make informed, intelligent choices about what vehicles to buy. By night (well, not really, but it sounds cooler that way), I volunteer with an organization called the Kanata Food Cupboard, a food bank that serves the former City of Kanata, now a massive Ottawa suburb of about 90,000 people.

Kanata is the epicentre of Ottawa’s high-tech sector, a status that earned this former city the moniker Silicon Valley North in the 1990s. At its peak, the tech boom brought lots of population growth to the area, as well as money; today, technology companies employ about 80,000 people in the city of Ottawa. At its core, Kanata is a typical suburb, though, with a wide range of demographics, including the roughly 200 underprivileged families who rely on the Kanata Food Cupboard every month.

2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD
2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD. Click image to enlarge

With just two part-time employees to run the show, volunteers (1,754 of them in 2010) handle much of the grunt work, including the regular collection of food donated at a number of area grocery stores. That’s my gig, and one I’ve tackled with a variety of test vehicles, from loading a Fiat 500 to its roof (literally) during a regular collection last summer, to doing much the same thing with a Chevrolet Traverse in the busier lead-up to Thanksgiving.

But the weeks prior to Christmas make up the busiest time of year by far for the Kanata Food Cupboard. In 2010, the organization collected more than 226,000 pounds of food, 94,000 pounds of that in December alone, thanks to food drives and the generosity of the people of Kanata. Given the unpredictability of my personal transportation situation, I thought it would be wise to seek out a vehicle that could handle not only a large volume of stuff, but also a significant amount of weight: all those cans of soup and packages of pasta add up.

2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD
2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD
2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD
2012 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD. Click image to enlarge

I approached Ford of Canada about the possibility of borrowing a Transit Connect, a vehicle purpose-built for moving large quantities of things: its tall roof allows for a maximum cargo volume of 3,670L (129.6 cu.ft.), and it’s built to handle an impressive (for its size) payload (gross weight rating minus curb weight) of 663 kg (1,462 lbs). Unfortunately, there were none on Ford’s press fleet, so the company graciously offered me a 2012 Explorer instead. In spite of its extra size, the Explorer’s payload limit is actually lower, at 648 kg (1,429 lbs), and its maximum cargo space, with all three rows of seats folded, is a substantially smaller 2,285 litres (80.7 cu.ft.).

Though it’s less expansive inside, the Explorer is more expensive: its base price of just under $30,000 is a $3,200 reach from the base Transit Connect. Even before I started using it to haul food around, my Explorer Limited 4WD tester was already fully-loaded. Its starting price of $44,199 was boosted by $2,800 with the addition of the “302A” equipment group, with includes, quite literally, I think, everything you can get in an Explorer from the factory: heated and cooled front seats, blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, park assist, adaptive cruise control with collision warning and power-folding third-row seats; navigation and a backup camera are part of the “basic” Limited package. I’m looking forward to seeing how much this truck’s safety features and driver aids contribute to my peace of mind as I navigate crowded suburban grocery store parking lots with a loaded-down SUV. With the threat of snow looming large, the Explorer’s 4WD system should get a workout, too.

Job number one for the Explorer was to move one of the Kanata Food Cupboard’s metal donation bins from their offices to a nearby hotel for a fundraising event. It had to be picked up again the next day, along with about 200 pounds of donations; an easy warm-up for a vehicle that will be tested far more rigorously as the coming weeks roll on toward Christmas. Follow along through the rest of November and December to see how the Explorer and I fare.

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