|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
At a glance, the most obvious difference with the Explorer EcoBoost is found in the grille, side mirrors, and alloys. The V6 has body-colored matching grille and side mirrors while the EcoBoost has a high-luster silver grille and black side mirrors. The EcoBoost also rides on smaller 245/60R18 shows while the V6 has standard 255/50R20’s. Overall, these changes are thankfully minimal ensuring that the Explorer EcoBoost retains the same head-turning gravitas as the original full-bodied Explorer V6.
Inside though, the differences aren’t quite superficial as the Explorer EcoBoost is clearly discontented compared to the V6. Features such as the two-panel sunroof, premium Sony audio system, push-button engine start/stop, power adjustable pedals, power folding third row, and front cooled seats with memory for the driver are all shown the door. Even the chrome door sill has been replaced by a black resin plastic that reads, “Explorer”. Still, basic adjectives used to describe the Explorer are still applicable: upscale, well-built, comfortable, and roomy. The Explorer EcoBoost manages to retain prerequisite luxury features such as leather seats, dual-zone climate control (with ceiling-mounted air vents), cruise control, and even the rear parking camera. If there’s only one gripe you can level at the EcoBoost model, it’s this: the third-row seats now require a clumsy three-step process to fold flat as opposed to the single button affair in the V6.
And despite the reduction in high-tech toys, the Explorer EcoBoost manages to retain Ford’s crowning on-board technological achievement: MyFord Touch with SYNC. This means the Explorer EcoBoost retains the V6’s myriad of audio input options including full Apple iPod capability and Bluetooth connectivity. In fact, the Explorer EcoBoost is the first one to have Version 2.0 of MyFord Touch with improved response times, bigger icons and fonts, and improvements to the voice command feature. Even the center stack has been modified to add more shortcuts and physical buttons to by-pass the touch screen interface. And after a week’s worth of use, MyFord Touch 2.0 is indeed a great improvement over the original interface, though there are times where the touch screen remained laggy and slow to react.
Aesthetic differences aside, the biggest difference of the Explorer EcoBoost versus the V6 is found in the engine bay. The EcoBoost drops 1.5 liters of displacement and two cylinders compared to the original model. As a result, the entry-level Explorer is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Putting a small engine into a full-sized crossover may sound crazy, but Ford has found a way to boost the inline-4’s output by employing direct injection and turbocharging. The Explorer EcoBoost shares the same transmission in the bigger-engined Explorer which is a six-speed automatic. However, the EcoBoost model doesn’t have the SelectShift manual override. Ford reckons that performance should be close to the V6 as the power outputs are very close (290 horsepower with the V6, 237 for the EcoBoost). But in reality, the performance of the Explorer EcoBoost is way, way better!
You don’t get the same deep-throated rumble on the EcoBoost engine as you would on the V6 at start-up, but the EcoBoost can easily scoot to higher speeds thanks to excellent low-end grunt and a lighter curb weight (the EcoBoost is purely front-wheel drive). Whether in city traffic or on the wide, open road, the character of the two engines is almost indistinguishable. However, it must be said that the EcoBoost is the one to have when climbing up the likes of Baguio where the smaller, forced-induction engine trumps over the larger, normally-aspirated engine thanks to better breathing. In a back-to-back test, the Explorer V6 found itself unable to keep up with the Explorer EcoBoost up the twisty Kennon Road—surely an amazing feat in itself. Plus the Explorer EcoBoost does have a much softer, more compliant ride compared to the V6.
Ford’s logic in downsizing the engine and the removal of the all-wheel drive system is all to improve the Explorer’s fuel economy. In fact, Ford says the EcoBoost model should return up to 20 percent better fuel economy compared to the V6. Sadly, “up to” remains the operative word as a week’s worth of Explorer EcoBoost driving returned just 5.95 km/L compared to 5.68 km/L in the V6 or just 5 percent better fuel economy in similar city traffic conditions. In a more highway-oriented set-up though, the EcoBoost did manage to return the advertised 20 percent improvement in fuel economy registering 10.2 km/L versus the 8.07 km/L for the V6.
As previously mentioned, since Ford is positioning the 2.0 EcoBoost as an entry-level model, the all-wheel drive system is no where to be found and neither is the fancy Terrain Management System and its driver-selectable control knob. This should be sufficient to 99.5 percent of Explorer owners who don’t or will never go anywhere remotely muddy. That said, because the Explorer EcoBoost still has Traction Control, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist it’s still a safe bet for those “hairier situations”.
In fact, the Explorer EcoBoost doesn’t take a backseat when it comes to safety—it’s just as loaded as the V6. It comes with six airbags, ABS, EBD, and brake assist. Even more surprisingly is that the Explorer EcoBoost has something which the V6 doesn’t: the world’s first inflatable second row seat belts. This system essentially puts airbags into the outboard second row seat belts that provide additional protection to rear passengers, especially children.
All in all, it should be very clear that despite being labeled as the entry-level model, the Explorer EcoBoost manages to retain the very same character, the very same ingredients that made the Explorer V6 such a big critical and sales success. More than anything, the EcoBoost configuration has made an awesome luxury crossover even more awesome. Let’s be very clear: Ford has managed to give us an entry-level Explorer model that’s in no way diluted. It is every bit as delicious as the original flavor V6, and that should be music to potential owner’s ears.