Pricing for the Explorer in Canada starts at $45,549, $32,450 in the US.
The hybrid powertrain is a $3,000 option from the Limited trim.
The basic 2.3-litre EcoBoost powertrain might be the best choice overall.
Ford has bet the farm on SUVs, like a few other automakers. It stands to reason, given the SUV’s ever-increasing market share, that the bet will pay off. Ford has decades of experience building utility vehicles and more than 15 years selling hybrids. The 2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid is the result and it’s far less than stellar.
One would think that by combining these levels of expertise, the Blue Oval would then make some of the best hybrid SUVs in the world. My week-long test of the plug-in hybrid 2021 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring revealed numerous bugs, but I wasn’t discouraged. Picking up and reviewing this 2021 Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid revealed that it isn’t as good as it should be.
Most hybrids excel in the city. This is where the electric motor serves to break the vehicle’s inertia and limit onset fuel consumption swell. If you’ve ever driven a vehicle with a real-time fuel consumption gauge, even under mild acceleration from a dead-stop, the posted numbers can skyrocket into the 30- or 40L/100km if only for a few moments. A hybrid negates these in-traffic fuel consumption spikes which explain why gaps between city and highway mileage numbers are so small. For example, the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid’s specs say that it consumes 6.7 city/ 6.8 hwy/ 6.7 combined (L/100 km).
The 2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid, according to Ford, averages 10.1 city/ 9.0 hwy/ 9.6 combined (L/100 km). My week with the Explorer began with nearly all city driving. After four days, the posted fuel consumption number was just shy of 13L/100km. By the weekend, the family and I went on a brief 400km road trip where that number dropped to 10.4L/100km. Cruising at highway speeds saw the fuel meter steadily drop even when cruising at around 120km/h. Here is proof that this hybrid system is not “tuned” conventionally.
Go For Eco
About tuning, there’s something incredibly off about the “Normal” default drive mode. It’s as though the computer sits in limbo until something happens. Throttle response is overly delayed and once underway, the petrol V6 engine comes online right around the time the 10-speed transmission upshifts. Relatedly, the brake pedal responds in an equally “confused” manner. Under pressure, stopping power can vary from regenerative to mechanical creating an odd pulse in the pedal. For the most part, city driving with the Explorer Hybrid is disagreeable.
The best option to reduce the brain’s hesitations is to immediately select “Eco” mode. Configured as such, the 3.3-litre V6, electric motor, and transmission are in sync. The same happens in “Sport”. Combined, the system’s total output is rated at 318 horsepower and 322 lb.-ft. of torque. Once above 4th gear, or thereabouts, and cruising, the Explorer Hybrid comes unto its own. The V6’s smooth power and the 10-speed’s equally suave operation is pleasant, sorted, or exactly the opposite of what goes down in the city. Braking improves as well.
Good Comfortable Cruiser
Although it’s difficult to separate ride quality and comfort from the driving experience in this SUV’s case, the Explorer’s RWD platform is nice. The chassis is nicely arranged to aptly mesh comfort and the sense of control. The included 20-inch wheels with slightly taller sidewalls may explain why this Limited Hybrid rode better than last year’s Platinum and its optional 21-inch wheels.
For some reason, Ford thought it right to tune the 2021 Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid’s electric power steering to be extremely heavy – needlessly so. For some, serious forearm muscle will be required in tight parking maneuvers.
Decently quiet at speed, the cabin is extremely spacious and comfortably appointed. Fit, materials, and finish are still subpar, as they were in last year’s tested Explorer Platinum. Seats are comfortable for the most part and there’s a fair amount of storage on hand. This time, SYNC3 worked well through the standard 8-inch screen. Ergonomics are simple but the overall presentation is underwhelming when compared to what the competition offers.
As far as styling is concerned, it’s a plus. Along with size and space, the 2021 Ford Explorer’s strong SUV shape pleases. Of the advantages to the SUV’s long wheelbase are its stance and large rear doors.
Is the best Explorer equipped with the 2.3-litre EcoBoost?
Unfortunately, the only one I’ve yet to review is the 4-cylinder Explorer. On paper/screen at least, it suffers no shortcomings. Its posted combined fuel consumption of 10.3L/100km is barely more than 0.5L/100km than the Hybrid and is $3,000 less.
On that topic, the 2021 Ford Explorer Limited is $50,799. The potential fuel savings will only pay themselves off after many years meaning the hybrid powertrain is not, in this case, worth the investment.
If a midsize 3-row hybrid is what you are looking for, the less expensive and far more fuel-efficient Toyota Highlander is the best option. It’s also an excellent “regular” SUV as are the Subaru Ascent, Mazda CX-9, and Honda Pilot, all better in many respects than the Explorer.