2021 Ford Explorer Review
  • Car Review

2021 Ford Explorer Review

By Autolist Editorial | December 14, 2020

Quick Facts:


  • Athletic powertrain options.
  • Spacious cargo capacity.
  • Fuel efficient hybrid available.


  • Some interior materials feel inferior.
  • Third-row seating is cramped.
  • Upper-tier trims can get expensive.

Would we buy one? Yes.

Vehicle Type: Four-door midsize crossover SUV with seating for up to seven people.

Price Range: Base trim level pricing starts at $33,470 MSRP and goes to $55,725 MSRP, before options. A $1,245 destination charge is included.

Powertrain: Four powertrains are available.

A 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive.

A 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine making 365 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque is available, as is a variant of this engine generating 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque.

A 3.3-liter V6 hybrid making 318 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque is also a part of the lineup. All-wheel drive is available.

Competitors: Mazda CX-9, Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Volkswagen Atlas, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, GMC Acadia, Dodge Durango.

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Overall Score: 7.4/10

Safety Features: 8/10


Some useful safety features come standard on all trims for the 2021 Explorer with the Co-Pilot 360 suite. They include automatic emergency braking, a rearview camera, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high beams.

The Ford Explorer's standard safety features surpass some competitors' lesser offerings. Still, rivals like the Hyundai Palisade offer more safety features and might be considered if this is a buying point for you.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2021 Ford Explorer five out of five stars in crash tests. Meanwhile, the IIHS has not yet rated it.

Value: 6/10


There are five trim levels available for the 2021 Ford Explorer. The base model's MSRP starts at $33,470, with the Explorer XLT starting at $35,245 and the Explorer Limited starting at $45,955.

The top-tier models round out the lineup, with the Explorer ST starting at $53,850 and the Explorer Platinum starting at $55,725.

Available all-wheel drive comes standard on the top-tier ST and Platinum trims, and adds roughly $2,000 to the price of lower trims.

We would go with the Ford Explorer XLT trim based on its balance of upgraded features and an accessible starting price. The Limited trim offers enhanced comfort with leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, a navigation system, and a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio system.

Tech Features: 7/10


Standard infotainment system features starting with the base trim include an 8.0-inch touchscreen featuring Sync 3 that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. A larger 10.1-inch touchscreen is available with the top tier trims in addition to a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, which is a welcomed premium addition.

The Explorer Platinum has advanced technology like adaptive headlights, adaptive cruise control, and a color digital gauge cluster.

Practicality: 9/10


The three-row Explorer resides within the competitive midsize SUV segment. The Ford SUV boasts a range of capabilities such as large cargo capacity and a slew of utility features.

The cabin space is plentiful, with sufficient legroom and headroom in front. Seating space decreases for second-and-third-row seating but is adequate for most adults, especially with the optional second-row captain's chairs.

Cargo capacity is 18.2 cubic feet behind the third-row seat. With the third row folded down, expect upward of 50 cubic feet of cargo space. Folding down both rows expands cargo space to an impressive 87.9 cubic feet.

Properly equipped, the Explorer's towing capacity is 5,600 lbs.

The 2021 Explorer is a natural urban utility vehicle with plenty of practicality to satisfy family-minded consumers and a spectrum of midsize SUV shoppers.

Styling & Design: 7/10


The Ford Explorer does not have bold changes for 2021. The base trim level's interior could use higher quality materials. Small panel gaps are noticeable, and there is a sense that aesthetics were an afterthought. The Explorer XLT does add some nice touches like heated seating with a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

Rivals like the GMC Acadia offer a rugged and stylish exterior that some shoppers may find more appealing than the upright, slightly boxy Explorers looks. A Sport Appearance Package that includes larger 20-inch alloy wheels and unique exterior touches like chrome dual exhaust tips and skid plates is available for the Explorer XLT.

Driving Experience: 7/10


The Explorer gets rear-wheel drive standard. The rear-wheel drivetrain helps if you plan on doing a lot of towing and hauling. More robust towing capabilities and improved handling while pulling heavy loads are noticeable for 2021.

Powerful engines stand toe-to-toe with rivals like the GMC Acadia. They offer a sound balance of performance capabilities and practicality in the segment.

The ST gets a sport-tuned suspension with paddle shifters on its heated steering wheel. Its 3.0-liter V6 provides 400 horsepower, which will appeal to those looking for rapid acceleration. The base 2.3-liter engine is sufficient for most drivers' needs.

Fuel Efficiency: 8/10


The available hybrid is the most fuel-efficient powertrain available in the lineup. The gas-only powertrains are on par with rivals like the Kia Telluride and GMC Acadia.

The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine gets 21/28/24 mpg city/hwy/combined according to EPA estimates. The AWD variant loses one mpg in all categories. The 3.0-liter V6 with AWD gets 18/24/20 mpg city/hwy/combined. For the 3.3-liter gas/hybrid electric powertrain setup, the EPA estimates 27/29/28 mpg city/hwy/combined with RWD equipped. The same powertrain with AWD equipped gets 23/26/25 mpg city/hwy/combined.

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