The concept of a mainstream Ford is about to change forever. So is the crucial new Explorer EV any good?

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The Ford Explorer is a new Ford like no other. The fact that it’s based on a Volkswagen architecture is remarkable enough, that it takes the place of the Fiesta on its production lines in Cologne perhaps more so. Oh, and it resets the notion of a mainstream, mass-market family-sized Ford as a car that is now electric and starts at £40,000. 

The new Explorer isn't just a new Ford, then - a significant enough event itself - but the boldest embodiment of entirely new approach for the Blue Oval in Europe. The strategy has been to replace high-volume, low-margin models like the Fiesta and Focus with more profitable crossovers like the Puma and now the Explorer, ‘legacy’ model names being rebooted in the process. 

This isn’t a fringe manufacturer tinkering around with the margins of its range. It’s Ford, the UK’s number-one car maker and maker of its number-one car in the Fiesta for as long as anyone can remember – but with the demise of the Fiesta, it's no more on either count, and the brand is clinging onto a place in the top five in the UK’s sales charts.

The Explorer’s development hasn't been easy. It was delayed by more than a year and re-engineered late on to take advantage of more advanced battery technology, and Martin Sander, who led the company throughout its development and was the spokesperson for this new Ford of Europe, including being the face of the Fiesta news, left Ford to join Volkswagen just a week before the first test drives.

That’s quite a lot to unpick, yet whatever the narrative to date, only one thing really matters now: is it any good to drive? The pretty yet sodden roads around Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, will reveal all.

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ford explorer review 2024 02 side panning

The Explorer has a bold and distinctive look from the outside that does make it stand out in a class full of models that you would struggle to tell apart. A homogenised blob it is not.

The footprint is almost identical to that of a Focus yet with the interior space of a larger Mondeo or Kuga. It’s just under 4.5m in length and just under 2m in width.

The light blue launch colour pops nicely, but like any other colour than white, it costs £800

Ford’s designers have worked hard to maximise the wheelbase and keep overhangs as short as possible, and Ford’s European design boss Amko Leenarts said the styling is unapologetically American – something Ford is looking to play up in its new era for road cars. 

Multiple versions of the Explorer are offered at (or soon after) launch. The most keenly priced entry-level model is a smidge under £40,000 and arrives at the end of this year with a 239-mile range from its 52kWh battery in entry-level Select trim. Power comes from a rear-mounted 168bhp electric motor.

The single-motor Extended Range version has a 282bhp motor and a 77kWh battery that’s good for an impressive 374-mile range – the most yet of any Volkswagen Group MEB-derived car. You can spec this in Premium trim, which knocks 20 miles off the range.

The range-topper is a dual-motor Extended Range, available only in Premium trim. This gets an additional motor on the front axle for four-wheel drive and a combined 335bhp output. Its 79kWh battery pack gives it a 329-mile range.

Top speed is limited to 112mph in both models and the 0-62mph time is just over a second quicker in the dual-motor version than the single-motor car, at 5.3sec.


ford explorer driven

Inside, the touchscreen commands all of your attention. It’s big – dominating, in fact, at nearly 15in, filling the centre console and then some. And it has the novel feature of being able to be tilted at different angles to reveal extra storage.

The resolution of the screen is excellent and the graphics clear, yet it shares an unwelcome trait with the Volkswagen Group MEB cars in being tricky to navigate once you get beyond the initial menu screen and want anything more than a simple function. The sat-nav voice asking me to make a U-turn will be an earworm forever more, as I couldn’t find a volume button to turn it off.

The movable screen is a bit of a gimmick but it's a handy extra bit of hidden storage, which is automatically locked when the car is locked

The main issue is that the ‘buttons’ are small and require eyes off the road to line up a finger to press, made worse by poor iconography that makes it not obvious what you’re pressing. Heating controls are thankfully given permanent residence and prominence down the bottom, but for the most part, the screen is so big and some buttons so small that it’s frustrating to use. There’s more space than Ford knows what to do with.

The haptic buttons on the steering wheel also carry over from the MEB cars, and they’re as unwelcome here as they are there. No wonder Volkswagen is getting rid of them on its own models; given the Explorer's lengthy development time, it’s surprising that Ford didn’t do the same. It will in time, we’re told. 

The rest of the interior does feel familiar in layout and perceived quality when compared with the Volkswagen Group models. Comfortable enough but with some obvious cost-saving in material choice, it's functional, rather than attractive, and middle-of-the-road in the class. It’s all a tad staid, a world away from the visual appeal and feel good factor of the Peugeot e-3008, which shows what can be done in the segment.

A sizable central storage bin is its most notable feature, which is perhaps saying something in itself. 


ford explorer review 2024 23 front tracking

The performance of the single-motor Explorer is adequate. It doesn't have the pep and verve of a 1.0-litre Ecoboost-engined Ford so is a very different car to drive as a result.

The initial step-off is very sudden, with a big surge of torque, but delivery becomes then much smoother and more linear, while keeping just enough power in reserve for overtaking.

Ford has resisted the need for any fake noise linked into how hard you drive it. I'm with them on this one.

It’s very quiet and refined, with minimal wind noise, altogether more grown-up than we’ve come to expect from mainstream Fords – again a reflection of the electric crossover breed.

The dual-motor Explorer feels like a better performance match for the chassis. Usually models like this are a bit much, with overwhelming power levels, and as such aren't as sweet to drive, but this is an exception.

The power makes the chassis more exploitable and the car simply more fun, feeling more agile, alive and urgent. It’s a shame that it’s offered only in range-topping trim, for the near-£55,000 price is well into Polestar 2 territory and the Explorer doesn't sit comfortably at that end of the market. There’s a sweet spot to be found somewhere, but it’s a version not yet on the Explorer’s price list. 

Both powertrains get a ‘B’ driving mode that's well executed for one-pedal driving, while there's the option to select Sport and Eco modes, the former stiffening up the steering and freeing up the resistance to your right foot and the latter the opposite, with the feeling of someone having left the handbrake on.


ford explorer review 2024 24 front tracking

The Volkswagen relationship is the most intriguing dynamic story to this new car. The Explorer, a crossover just 2cm longer than the Focus, is the first of two electric Fords to be based on the MEB architecture (the other will be a more rakish model set to be called Capri), which has only really made for one standout everyday driver’s car so far with the Cupra Born.

Yet the Born is a hatchback and the Explorer a tall-bodied crossover with a 10% weight penalty. Ford’s engineers, arguably the industry’s finest at making everyday handling heroes, have their work cut out.

Ford doesn't think it has had to compromise anywhere in turning a VW architecture into a good-driving Ford, which shows a surprising amount of common ground in approach to these two giants.

Still, the dynamics team led by Geert van Noyen, vehicle dynamics manager at Ford’s Lommel proving ground in Belgium, consider the MEB platform to be “fundamentally healthy and close to a Ford” and far better than early cars produced from it showed.

It has been a case of tuning hardware and software, including giving the Explorer bespoke Continental tyres, to make it drive like the Fords that we’ve got to know and love, which van Noyen concurs - with the caveat here of weight - are based on agility, intuition and a feeling of being connected to the road. 

There are so many - so, so many - 4.5m-ish electric crossovers from every brand filling every conceivable niche, so it can be hard to find where a new entrant like the Explorer can fit in.

The Explorer doesn’t make the mundane thrilling like a Focus would at its very best, yet it’s still pleasant and attention has clearly been out on making it a car that’s easy to gel with. It's a nice car to drive at everyday speeds, nicer for sure than the likes of the related Volkswagen ID 4 and Audi Q4 E-tron, as one of the best-handling electric crossovers to date.

The steering has just the right amount of weight to it to remain light but still feel precise. That precision extends to the handling: it’s all very predictable and it feels an easy car to place. It goes where you want it to go obligingly and tries to bring you into the process as far as possible, and there’s plenty of Ford-ness detectable. 

The suspension is passive, meaning it remains the same regardless of the driving mode, and it has been tuned differently depending on the model. Unusually, the lighter single-motor model had a notably poorer low-speed ride than the dual-motor one, which was much more supple over urban lumps and bumps. Another tick for the dual-motor version – but for that price…

For the record, both versions rode well out of town on super-smooth Slovenian highways that are a long way from Blighty.


ford explorer review 2024 01 front cornering

The Explorer’s credentials as an electric car on range hold up well. Our test returned an indicated real-world range of 320 miles in the single-motor car and 300 miles in the dual-motor car, even with some spirited driving. Those are very impressive figures, even more so as the temperature was 12deg C.

The maximum charging speed is 135kW in the single-motor car and 185kW in the dual-motor car.

The eternal struggle to come up with names for colours has reached the point where Ford calls the Explorer's blue 'Blue my mind'

The headline-grabbing model is the £39,875 Standard Range Select, which we’re yet to test. Its range is 239 miles. 

The single-motor Extended Range model costs from £45,875 in Standard trim (374-mile range) but can also be specced in Premium trim, as our test car was (354-mile range), which adds £4100 to the price in return for the larger 20in wheels (19ins are standard) and matrix LED lights, among other features.

In truth, the standard spec is so generous, with the likes of heated and massaging seats, some advanced driver assistance technology and big screen infotainment, that the upgrade doesn’t really seem worth it. While the list price may seem expensive next to rivals, the standard equipment list makes up for this. A heat pump is optional on both trims.

The dual-motor Extended Range version is available only in Premium trim, at £53,975, and has a range of 329 miles. 


ford explorer review 2024 30 front static

While Ford may not be the UK’s number-one brand any more in terms of sales, its dealer network remains vast and the Explorer will end up being many people's first electric car.

On that basis alone, it makes a very good stepping stone, with its impressive range and ultimately easy-going and enjoyable-to-drive nature. 

There's lots of room for rear passengers for both headroom and legroom. Boot is a slightly odd shape but 530 litres of storage is competitive.

Much of the old Ford has carried over into the new Ford with the Explorer: above-average dynamics, below-average interiors. It’s not another landmark Ford in the mainstream, rather a step on the way to get back there as electric cars evolve. Just choose your version carefully to see it at its best.

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.