DEARBORN, Mich. -- Ford's square-corner Explorer Limited crossover utility vehicle delivers an impressively smooth ride quality during a cruise around the speedy track at Michigan's Dearborn Proving Ground, the historic vehicle test facility of Ford Motor Company.
Explorer looks cool too, as marked by a boxy profile with a high beltline and the roof seemingly floating above a ring of dark privacy glass. The blunt face is a smooth sweep with corner clusters of clear-lens headlamps and Ford's distinctive three-bar grille with mesh inserts centered above the fat-lip fascia and front air dam.
At the tail the dark window rap works because rear roof pillars are tinted in black. There's a spoiler on the top edge of the big liftgate and large LED taillamp clusters dot the rear corners as oval tailpipes protrude below the thick black fascia.
The 2014 editions of Explorer come together at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant and segment into four trim grades -- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport -- with powertrain options and front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive traction.
All versions use a monocoque structure which unites chassis and body into one cohesive unit that remains extremely rigid when set in motion. A generous wheelbase length of 112.6 inches and broad wheel track of 67 inches forge a long and broad front-wheel-drive platform which adds to the vehicle's stability when running through a set of curves like the chicanes on the Dearborn test track.
Explorer carries independent suspension components -- a strut-type front suspension with 32-mm stabilizer bar and a rear multi-link design with coil-over-shocks -- to deliver incredibly smooth ride traits for riders.
A speed-sensing steering system gets electric power boost, which adds to the efficiency of Explorer's engines.
Among many active safety systems on tap, Explorer stocks an electronic safety device dubbed Curve Control -- it detects when a driver runs too fast into a turn, then deploys brakes to slow and stabilize the wagon.
Explorer's passenger compartment is substantial in size with total volume of 151.7 cubic feet and 80.7 cubic feet of flat-floored stow space stretching from front-row seatbacks to the tail-side liftgate. Three rows of seats apply to all trims and legroom for riders is generous.
The spec sheet for Explorer lists three powertrains.
Explorer Base, XLT and Limited trims draw from Ford's 3.5-liter V6 engine with DOHC (dual overhead cams) and performance-enhancing Ti-VVT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) technology. The plant produces 290 hp at 6500 rpm with torque of 255 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. The shifter is a 6-speed electronic automatic, and a SelectShift manual controller applies to XLT and Limited.
An optional engine for front-wheel-drive issues of Explorer is a 2.0-liter 4-in-line EcoBoost plant that makes 240 hp at 5500 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm. It earns economy scores of 20/28 mpg (city/highway).
Explorer Sport totes a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 with VVT (variable valve timing) and achieves 365 hp at 5500 rpm with torque of 350 lb-ft at 3500 rpm. It ties to a 6-speed electronic automatic SelectShift transaxle with paddle shifters and all-wheel-drive traction using Ford's TMS (Terrain Management System).
The TMS eliminates a traditional 4WD transfer case and the familiar 4-Hi/4-Lo/4-Auto settings in favor of four driver-selectable settings (Normal/Snow-Gravel/Sand/Mud-Ruts) that automatically tune various vehicle dynamic systems to the type of terrain being covered.
Explorer in base trim stocks power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, cloth seat upholstery for two front bucket seats with 6-way controls on the driver side, a second-row bench split 60/40 with folding seatbacks, the third row bench split 50/50 and folding into the floor, a tilting-telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, four 12-volt power outlets and a 6-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3.
The XLT and Limited editions pile on luxury trappings.
Standard gear for Explorer Sport includes twin-zone automatic climate controls, sport front seats with fabric upholstery, a backup camera, 12-speaker premium audio system and the latest versions of MyFord Touch and the Microsoft-powered Sync system with Wi-Fi connectivity.
Ford sets MSRP figures for 2014 Explorer models upward from the base $30,015. Explorer Sport lists for $40,780.