Skip to main content

The 2021 Ford Explorer delivers precisely what you’d expect from a seven-passenger, midsize, three-row SUV. Not much has changed this year, considering its refresh last year. But as with any car-buying decision, you’ll face choosing between a host of various options.

The Ford Explorer offers four-cylinder and V6 selections and five separate trim levels: the base model, the XLT, the Limited, the ST, and Platinum. Each level adds new equipment and amenities, of course, for a price. And some critics say to bypass the ST variation if you want to save almost $20,000.

What you get with the 2021 Ford Explorer ST trim

The 2021 Ford Explorer ST is a sporty version of the SUV. According to Ford, the starting MSRP is $52,830, nearly $20,000 higher than lower-level trims. Bumping up to the ST means getting rid of the traditional roof rails and adding a few stylish and performance touchpoints, including leather seating surfaces. It starts with the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, harnesses 400 horses, and achieving an estimated 18/24 mpg EPA rating.

The Ford Explorer ST gets a sport-tuned suspension and paddle shifters for that sporty feel behind the wheel. The front seats are a sport design with a memory function. There is a digital instrument panel and an automated parking system, as well.

Why critics recommend the Ford Explorer XLT trim instead

U.S. News recommends steering clear of the Ford Explorer ST. The base model will likely suit most drivers just fine, but the XLT trim presents the most value as the “sweet spot.”

The XLT adds roof rails, keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. You won’t have the sporty extras found on the ST, though. And the XLT comes with the smaller 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine offering 300-hp. 

What may be the determining factor for you is the price difference between the ST and XLT trims. The 2021 Ford Explorer XLT starts at $34,225, and the smaller engine achieves an esimated 21/28 mpg EPA rating. Even Edmunds suggests the XLT is the better buy in terms of overall value.

If you’re this kind of consumer, the ST might be perfect

Usually, the critics’ recommendations are intended to imply to the general car-buying public. But if you need an SUV that offers a smooth combination of luxury extras and sporty performance, the 2021 Ford Explorer ST may just be the perfect fit, no matter how much it costs.

If you need to haul or tow, you’ll appreciate the larger engine and horsepower. If you don’t necessarily want the Platinum extras, you’ll still likely find the plush amenities you love with the ST, as well.

How you define value and functionality


Will the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline Prevent Declining Sales?

The Ford Explorer is a good SUV that offers all the must-have driver assistance features and basics with its entry-level configurations. And bumping up to level two, with the XLT, brings a little more, for a lot less than the ST and Platinum versions.

It will boil down to the value and functionality priorities you have. If you don’t need the sporty or fancy extras, you can save nearly $20,000 with the XLT and get better gas mileage with the smaller engine. If power, performance, and comfort matter, you may be just as willing to drop the extra cash on the ST.

The competition within the three-row SUV space is steep. And it’s definitely worth your time to test drive a 2021 Ford Explorer. Just know there’s a significant budget difference between the trims. Only you can decide what list of equipment is more valuable to you and a necessity for the SUV you choose to buy.