I’m a guy who grew up with trucks. My dad had a truck, both my grandfathers had trucks, and the first vehicle I ever owned was a truck. I love trucks.
However, now my lifestyle is not conducive to owning a truck. In fact, I currently drive one of the smallest and least technologically advanced cars on the road. A car with hand crank windows and doors I need to lock manually – and I don’t mean by pressing a beeper on my keychain. My car is one of the most basic cars on the road and somewhat sadly, it is almost time to replace it – so I am exploring my options. And the most recent option I test drove was the Ford Explorer. So when I was offered the chance to drive the 2018 Ford Explorer from my home in the burbs up to Manning Park on the #5DadsGoWild trip, I jumped at the opportunity to try driving an ultra-modern, technologically advanced vehicle.
The purpose of our trip was to go camping. Or as the other guys on the trip were fond of saying, we were going to “do the camping.” Seeing as I was the “rugged outdoorsman” with all the camping gear, I had Michael Kwan swing by my house and we loaded everything we might need, and more into the cargo space of the Ford Explorer.
Photo credit – Michael Kwan
Now speaking of technologically advanced, to fold and stow the third row of seats in the Explorer, after opening the rear tailgate (by pressing a button on the remote control) you simply press a button on a small panel inside the rear of the truck and the seats fold down and stow themselves. “Click” done. I can get used to convenience like that!
And then we could fill the cargo space with everything a group of dads might need for camping.
Yes, if you drive a new car or truck you will be familiar with some of the features I am discussing – things like side mirrors that automatically fold in or how the driver’s seat automatically slides back and the steering wheel lifts up when you shut the vehicle off. For me, these are technological leaps forward!
It is interesting for me to see how vehicles have progressed technologically over the years – especially the last few years.
I have been following with interest the conversation about self-driving vehicles, paying particular attention to the Google experimentation with autonomous vehicles. While the Google people have gone “all-in” for the self-driving car, I see manufacturers like Ford taking a more gradual approach to the autonomous vehicle business.
I guess that is Ford getting people used to all the little conveniences of technology – one handy little feature or two at a time.
See the image above – the image of the dash? Rest assured, I had Michael snap the picture while we were driving. The most important part of that image is the part right in the centre – the image of the car between two green lines. This is part of Ford’s “lane keeping system”.
There is a camera mounted on the windshield behind the rearview mirror and as long as it can see the lines on each side of the road, it is happy,
That is the first step in the direction of self-driving cars. That little image shows where your vehicle is on the road. And if you drift out of your lane, the steering wheel lets you know by giving a little shake (there is an adjustable intensity to the alert) – it is hard to describe the feeling other than to say it feels like the vehicle is saying, “Hey! are you aware of what you are doing? You’re drifting across the lines!”
Of course the green lines on the dash turn to yellow and then red and then disappear if you go too far over the lines, but it is the feedback through the steering wheel that lets you know you are headed for trouble.
Put your turn signal on and cross the lines to make a lane change – no problem. No feedback through the steering wheel. The lane-keeping system knows you meant to cross the line.
As someone who has spent many long hours at the wheel, often late at night and perhaps (admittedly) long after I should have pulled over to sleep, that is a safety feature I can appreciate it.
As well as safety features and loads of storage, the other feature I enjoyed about the Ford Explorer was the ability to control the temperature of each zone of the truck. I discovered that I like to keep the temperature in my part of the Ford at 18.5 degrees. Michael had his temperature at 21 degrees. We were both happy, and comfortable.
However, not only could we control the cabin temperature, we could also turn on the heated seats. After a long day of skiing (or standing on the side of a soccer field in a drizzly rain) and being chilled right through, heated seats would be a welcome addition.
And of course the seats were a very fine black leather. And we all know how hot black leather seats can be in the summer? Well, just turn on the seat COOLER to cool your jets! Yes, air conditioned seats! I love the idea.
And about the feeling of driving the Ford Explorer – this is a truck. I would hesitate to call it an SUV – it is a truck. When I was driving on the highway I felt SECURE. I felt SAFE. The Ford Explorer sits securely on the road like the trucks that I grew up riding in as a kid. I liked that feeling.
While there was lots I loved about the Ford Explorer, there were a few things that made me wonder what they were thinking.
First thing – as I said, this is a truck. The sort of vehicle that I would load my family into and happily head off to the ski hill or the cabin or up and along any snowy road. So why would Ford put a plastic “spoiler” across the front of the vehicle? I could imagine that good looking spoiler getting cracked and broken the first time I drove through a deep and crusty snow drift.
And then the reality is that basically anyone and everyone has a mobile device. Ford seems to acknowledge this with the USB charging ports conveniently located in the front dash. But then where is there to stow your device? Another oversight.
And then that “lane keeping system”. I like it. I think it is a great safety feature. But why is it that the lane departure alert system is on the tiniest screen behind the steering wheel? Why not have it light up the much larger navigation/entertainment screen in the middle of the dash? Let the passenger know that the driver is drifting off or putting them at risk.
Overall, all things considered, I really enjoyed driving the Ford Explorer. It is a very comfortable vehicle, it feels safe, and it handles beautifully on the highway and in town (I did very little actual in town driving). The fuel consumption on our trip ended up being about 12 liters/100 km – pretty darn good for a vehicle of that size.
In spite of my quibbles about the plastic spoiler and there not being a spot to stash my phone, the Explorer is a really fun vehicle to drive. It was fun and it felt secure on the road. I would love to have all that space for when we go on a road trip! And with a fuel economy rating of 9.8 litres per 100 km for highway driving…that’s more than acceptable considering the size of the vehicle.
Disclosure: Ford Canada loaned the Ford Explorer to us for the #5DadsGoWild trip at no cost to us. We were responsible for fuel costs and other incidentals and I received no compensation for writing this blog post. As always, the opinions I express and editorial control of what goes on this blog remain mine.