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2021 Ford Explorer review highlights: 

  • 2021 Ford Explorer ($34,170 – $54,330)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ 
  • Pros: Stout acceleration, plenty of cargo space, comfortable interior, tons of towing power 
  • Cons: Small infotainment screen, limited rear door access, lower fuel economy than expected 
The 2021 Ford Explorer parked by trees
2021 Ford Explorer | Allison Barfield, MotorBiscuit

The Ford Explorer was introduced in 1991 and never missed a beat as an engaging SUV for navigation around town, cruising on the highway, or dominating the wild. The 2021 Explorer continues its tradition as a sporty, capable, and practical SUV. 

It offers three rows of seats and an abundance of cargo space for family trips. Plus, it features modern tech and includes tons of standard safety features for peace of mind. Rear-wheel drive comes standard, but the Explorer can be equipped with all-wheel drive. 

You can even opt for the hybrid powertrain or select the top-of-the-line Platinum and ST modes for the twin-turbo V6. With multiple configurations to choose from, the 2021 Ford Explorer meets various needs. 

What’s new for the 2022 Ford Explorer? 

The 2022 Ford Explorer is primarily a carry-over model since it was recently redesigned for 2020. The new ST-Line was introduced with 20-inch wheels, black exterior accents, and badging. 

The interior provides a sense of high-quality performance and sportiness with faux-suede upholstery and red stitching, a sport steering wheel, and dorr-jamb protection plates equipped with the ST-Line logo. 

Plus, the ST trim is now available with twitch rear-wheel drive. The Platinum, King Ranch, and Timberline trims can be equipped with captain’s chairs for no extra charge. Plus, Platinum and King Ranch trims received a power boost up to 400 hp. 

Which 2021 Ford Explorer trim is best? 

The 2021 Ford Explorer driving down the road
2021 Ford Explorer | Ford
  • Ford Explorer base model $34,170
  • XLT $36,320 
  • Limited $46,500
  • Timberline $47,260
  • ST $50,245
  • Limited Hybrid $50,600
  • Platinum $53,725 
  • King Ranch $53,845
  • Platinum Hybrid $54,300 

The mid-level Ford Explorer Limited model provides the best value for the price, but the hybrid is also an excellent option for those looking to save on fuel around the city. However, the standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine is pretty fun and irresistible on the highway. 

You can tow up to 5,300 lbs when the Limited trim is equipped with the towing package, and all-wheel drive can be added for $1,920. With the 3.0-liter V6 engine, the Explorer can tow up to 5,600 lbs. 

Standard features with the Limited trim include 20-inch wheels, the 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, leather upholstery, power-folding third-row seats, a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel and adaptive cruise control. 

The Ford Explorer is addicting to drive 

After a week with the 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch, it’s easy to see why law enforcement and police units love this SUV. It’s fast, sporty, confident, and safe. It makes boring daily drives fun and engaging, but it also delivers a relaxing, low maintenance performance if desired. 

The standard turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four engine provides 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is an astounding amount of power. The 3.3-liter V6 hybrid engine cranks out 318 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque. 

You can upgrade to the 3.0-liter V6 engine for 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. Each powertrain is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The Explorer can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds. 

Along with a quick acceleration, the Explorer provides smooth transmission shifts and confident braking. The steering is light with responsive handling and plenty of grip around curves. The stiff suspension helps to enhance its cornering abilities and limits body roll. 

Plus, the Ford Explorer is agile and easy to park. The tight turning radius is perfect for navigation in tight city areas. Also, the optional 360-degree camera provides an excellent view of your surroundings. 

Does the Explorer have a good fuel economy? 

The Ford Explorer Hybrid gets an EPA-estimated 27 mpg in the city and up to 28 mpg on the highway. We wish the gas-powered models could match these figures. 

With the 3.0-liter V6 engine, you get an EPA-estimated 18 mpg in the city and up to 24 mpg on the highway. 

On steep and curvy mountain roads, flat county land, and tight city areas, we averaged about 19.6 mpg. Switching between the Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes didn’t seem to impact the fuel economy much. 

How comfortable is the 2021 Ford Explorer? 

The 2021 Ford Explorer provides optimal comfort with larger, supportive front seats. You can feel the rollers poking your back in some vehicles with massaging seats, but this isn’t the case in the Explorer. 

Both the front and second-row seats offer a variety of adjustments, allowing drivers and passengers to find the perfect position. The second-row seats are also comfortable and well-padded. 

Critics, like the team at Edmunds, are quick to point out that the Explorer has a tight third row. However, at 5’1″, I had plenty of space. There is enough space for two average-sized adults in the rear. 

The third row sits at a comfortable incline with plenty of padding. Rivals we have tested such as the Volkswagen Atlas and Mazda CX-9 have a smaller third row. 

The Explorer has a smooth ride over most road imperfections. You can feel impacts on the road with a sense of connection and control. Passengers don’t get jostled around. Also, wind and road noise is hardly noticeable at highway speeds. 

Each of the climate controls work quickly and efficiently. The heated seats are great during cold mornings, and the ventilated seats have no trouble keeping up during hot afternoons. Passengers have their own climate controls in the rear as well. 

The Explorer has a swanky interior 

The 2021 Ford Explorer features a simple layout with high-quality materials. Everything you need is easily within reach and clearly labeled. Lower trim levels may receive flack for the use of hard plastics. 

But moving up to higher models provides access to soft-touch surfaces and premium leather upholstery. The twin-panel panoramic moonroof allows natural light to enter the cabin and contributes to a sense of extra space. 

The door openings in the second row are a bit tight. It would be easier to access the third row if the second-row seats could slide a few more inches forward. It’s a tight squeeze to get back there, but it’s not much of an issue since the third row is for smaller adults and kids. 

At least the power-folding third row and power-sliding second row are convenient for accessing and adjusting cargo space. The seats in the second and third rows can fold completely flat. However, the cup holders in the second-row console may prevent cargo from laying flat. 

You can access up to 18.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row with up to 87.8 cubes total. There is a great amount of storage space for small personal items, thanks to storage trays and cubbies. 

How is the Ford Explorer’s tech? 

The 2021 Ford Explorer dash
2021 Ford Explorer tech | Ford

The 2021 Ford Explorer is packed with modern amenities. An 8.0-inch touchscreen is standard, but you can upgrade to a 10.1-inch vertical screen. However, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have a bit of an awkward fit on the larger screen, with blank space in the bottom half. 

The system is powered by Ford Sync 3 software with attractive graphics. It’s fast and intuitive. Plus, the 12-inch digital gauge cluster looks great and is easy to customize. It feels similar to the units in the Ford Escape and Ford Maverick. 

You can adjust the ambient lighting to your favorite color, and the tri-zone climate control keeps everyone comfortable. The Bang & Olufsen audio system offers an immersive experience with crisp sound. 

Convenience features include a hands-free liftgate, parking sensors, rain-sensing window wipers, heated seats in the second row, a rear-seat entertainment system, voice-activated navigation, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. 

How safe is the 2021 Ford Explorer? 

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2021 Ford Explorer is incredibly safe. The Explorer earned a ‘Good’ rating in most crash simulations, which is the highest score possible. 

The standard safety systems received a ‘Superior’ score with the ability to avoid vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions. The Explorer avoided accidents at 12, 25, and 37 mph. 

The headlights received an ‘Advanced’ score because visibility is inadequate on the left side of the road during straightaways and curves. But they never exceeded glare limits, and the high-beam assists compensate for the low beam’s limitations. 

Standard safety features include: 

  • Forward-collision warning 
  • Automated emergency braking 
  • Blind-spot monitoring 
  • Rear-cross traffic alert 
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Lane-keeping assist 

How reliable is the Ford Explorer? 

The 2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid towing a boat
2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid | Ford

According to Consumer Reports, the 2021 Ford Explorer has a predicted reliability rating of one out of five, which is below average. The reliability ranking is based on trouble reported by owners of previous model years. 

Most of the problems were reported on the 2020 model and the previous generation. The most common issue involved body integrity and power equipment problems. However, there are fewer accounts of issues reported on the 2021 model, meaning they may have been corrected. 

With proper care and maintenance, the Ford Explorer shouldn’t have any trouble reaching 200,000 miles. Some owners report that their Explorer is still going strong after 300k miles, so it’s safe to expect about 10 to 17 years of service. 

It costs an average of $775 to maintain the Explorer annually or $65 per month. A new vehicle’s average yearly maintenance cost is about $792 or $66 per month. 

The MotorBiscuit experts give the 2021 Ford Explorer a rating of 8.9 out of 10 

The team at MotorBiscuit awarded the 2021 Ford Explorer with a rating of 8.9 out of 10. The Ford Explorer is fast, smooth, engaging, and practical. It’s an excellent three-row SUV to consider. 

While the second row provides plenty of space for installing child seats, the door opening is a bit small, limiting access to the third row. However, there is enough space for two adults or children in the back with abundant cargo space. Plus, each row is exceptionally comfortable. 

The space of the vertically oriented infotainment screen doesn’t feel optimized, but there are plenty of other tech features to make up for it. The Explorer is smart and capable. Plus, it’s loaded with standard safety features. 

We hope to see how the Ford Explorer Timberline compares with beefier off-roading equipment and capabilities soon.


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