2012 Ford Explorer is still cramped despite extra seating

2012 Ford Explorer

2012 Ford Explorer

At first glance, the 2012 Ford Explorer looks like it could be a minivan alternative, but this hulk of a crossover could barely fit my family of four in the first two rows and often left me disappointed during my test drive.

I had high hopes for the 2012 Explorer. With its 2011 redesign, the Explorer went from a two-row SUV to a three-row crossover that can seat up to seven. Unfortunately, the Explorer's large size doesn't equal a roomy interior. It's almost as if the Explorer has extra-thick walls swallowing up any additional interior space.

With its 290-horsepower V-6 engine, the Explorer gave me enough power to merge onto the highway and get around town with ease. For 2012, the Explorer has added an optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine to its lineup; it's only available with front-wheel drive.

The 2012 Explorer base has a starting price of $29,105 (including an $825 destination charge). My test car, a midlevel XLT trim with all-wheel drive and a V-6, cost $34,920.

Exterior

I've always been a fan of the redesigned Explorer's chunky, angular look. The bold three-bar grille and chrome accents only accentuate its masculine design.

The first couple of times I drove the Explorer I was child-free, so I didn't notice the crossover's uncomfortably high step-in height or heavy doors. Once my 3- and 1-year-olds entered the picture, the inconvenience of both were made well-known.

With the third row folded, the cargo area was large enough to handle my stroller and a full grocery run for a family of four. Even with the third row in use, I was still able to fit a week's worth of groceries in the trunk.

The 2012 Explorer has a standard 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine. A 240-hp, turbo 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-four-cylinder engine is optional only on front-wheel-drive Explorers. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The turbo four-cylinder gets an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg city/highway, and the V-6-equipped Explorer gets 18/25 mpg with front-wheel drive and 17/23 mpg with all-wheel drive. During my weeklong test drive, my test car averaged 17.7 mpg. Both engines use regular unleaded gas.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

Interior

Before loading up the Explorer with kids and their child-safety seats, I was quite pleased with the crossover's interior. The optional leather seats were comfortable, and the dash's layout was sleek and uncluttered. Unfortunately, my contentment went out the window once my family was loaded into it. Not only were we seriously lacking in legroom, but also I found myself easily frustrated with the media controls.

Ford has an unintuitive multimedia system called MyFord Touch. It appears sleek and streamlined with its 8-inch touch-screen in the dash, but to access anything on it requires a bit of patience. As someone who finds herself in a new car every other week, I pride myself on acclimating quickly to multimedia systems. This never happens with MyFord Touch.

The system's steering-wheel controls are meant to make switching between audio sources easy, but to switch from satellite radio to Bluetooth streaming audio you have to push the up and down arrows every which way to filter through the multitude of options including climate, navigation, phone and settings. It's cumbersome and above all else, distracting -- the exact opposite of what steering-wheel controls and multimedia systems should be.

After my husband, our 3- and 1-year-olds and their convertible child-safety seats were loaded into the Explorer, I was shocked at how cramped we were in it. I couldn't help but wonder what the Explorer's designers were thinking? What's the use of a third row when there isn't enough room in the first two rows to begin with?

Accessing the 50/50-split third row was a joke when my daughters' car seats were installed in the second row. Without car seats in the standard second-row bench, the 60/40-split seats tumble forward to allow third-row access. Second-row captain's chairs are available on the Limited trim, which might have solved the access issue for us.

To test the Explorer's third row, my husband offered to ride back there while my sister-in-law and I were in the front row and the kids and their car seats were in the second. To get into the third row, my lanky husband had to climb through the cargo area and over the third-row seatbacks; my sister-in-law and I laughed so hard at this spectacle that she had to use her inhaler.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Safety

The 2012 Ford Explorer has earned the title of Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A car must receive the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests to receive this safety nod. When tested by the federal government, the Explorer earned an overall crash-test rating of four stars out of five. It received four stars of five in frontal and rollover crash tests and five stars in the side crash test.

The Explorer has standard front-wheel drive, antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control and anti-roll control, and six airbags, including side curtains for all three rows. Optional features include all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, a blind spot warning system with Cross Traffic Alert, a backup camera and inflatable rear seat belts in the second row's outboard seats.

This three-row crossover has three sets of lower Latch anchors, with two sets in the second row and one set in the third row. The Latch anchors aren't buried deeply in the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet. This makes it easy to install child-safety seats. Another positive is the Explorer's seat belt buckles are on stable bases, so a child in a booster seat can buckle up with ease. For more child-safety seat info, go to the Ford Explorer's Car Seat Check.

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