Earlier this year, IHS Automotive reported that the Ford Explorer is the most preferred midsize SUV for female buyers.
Ford sold 128,952 Explorers nationwide through July of this year, with retail registrations to female buyers up 8 percent over 2015, according to data from IHS Automotive. All told, women have provided 40 percent of Explorer sales in the U.S. for the first half of this year, up from 37 percent in the first half of last year.
What’s more, from 2010 to 2015, premium small SUVs saw a 177-percent jump in sales to single women, according to MaritzCX, a customer-experience research company. Mainstream SUV sales to women rose 34 percent, compared with a 22 percent rise for men.
So what does a single woman do with a Ford Explorer anyway? Oh, this and that.
Out on the Town
I had a 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum for four days last week, driving all over Manhattan doing midtown office runs and a couple late nights in the West Village. I also used it to buy $800 worth of pasta and booze at a Costco in Long Island (it’s a long story) on Saturday, plus one Kirkland Signature hot dog (classic, not Polish style, with relish). I even took it to Newark to watch the Street League Skateboarding Nike SB World Tour championship, because why not?
On these treks I took along some prototypes of people I think Ford would love to attract to this car: two DJs (1OAK, Up & Down, LIV), a professional rock climber, and a young woman friend who is a fashion executive—and single, like all those new SUV buyers.
The overarching verdict on the car? Cool, very cool. The Explorer is big enough to cart six (or seven, depending) adults plus luggage (or bulk rigatoni), but it’s capable with a willing and able four-wheel-drive paired with an eco-boosted 365-hp engine. I liked its “Ruby Red Metallic” exterior paint ($395) and its softly square body, whose minimalism announces solid American design decency. After test-driving so many crossovers that were either overstyled into oblivion or bloated into boredom, I felt it was like hitting a sweet spot.
Here is what you get in the $53,235 Ford Explorer Platinum as standard and what makes it feel so complete: full LED head and tail lamps, fog lamps, a moon roof, a rear spoiler and roof rack, rain-sensing wipers, chrome exhaust tips, second-row heated seats, dual-zone climate control, parking cameras, and a wood- and leather-trimmed interior, among other things. You also get remote start and adaptive cruise control.
These are accoutrements were once offered only as options on luxury cars, then, after a few years, as standard on luxury cars. Now we are seeing them come standard on nonluxury cars, even if you have to splurge on the Platinum edition to get it. (You wouldn’t be alone: Sales of Explorer Sport and Platinum account for approximately 30 percent of Explorers sold in the U.S.) This is some evolution, and Ford has executed it excellently.
In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Explorer Platinum was as good as several other similar SUVs from "premium" brands. With its well-made interior trim, intuitive technology, and excellent performance for the money, it very nearly is. This year, as Kia and Lincoln outpace high-end luxury brands in quality and consumer satisfaction ratings, respectively, the gap between mass “luxury” and nonluxury in the car world is indeed closing.
Behind the Wheel
Driving the Ford Explorer Platinum is an example of total adequacy. You won’t set any land-speed records in this rig, and you may even feel a little wobble across the top if you take some corners too hard. At $55,155 with options, it’s $24,000 more expensive than the base Explorer. But the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth; the four-wheel disc antilock brakes are benevolent in their capability. There is lots of space for your head and shoulders and feet. If you are someone who loves to feel as though you own the road, the high ride height and massive visibility lines around the entire car will delight you. (The efficiency here could be better—you’ll get only 16 mpg in the city, for instance, even with that 6-cylinder eco-boost—but this is roughly on a par with similar models, such as the new Dodge Durango and GMC Acadia.)
As our retinue cruised to Jersey, we found the interior creature comforts equal to what you expect from a car of this price range: comfortable seats (the middle-row pilots’ chairs cost $695 extra), enough cup holders to satisfy late-August heat, and a Sony Premium sound system with Bluetooth that linked seamlessly with our favorite 21 Savage playlist. (The perks of having professional music nerds along for the ride.) I also appreciated the myriad power outlets to support our social media- and iPhone-obsessed lifestyle.
What enchanted me most on the inside was the 50/50 folding far rear seat, wrapped in “Nirvana” crème leather, no less: One push of an electronic button lets it fold completely down flat—ideal for Costco-size boxes of merlot—and then resurrect itself automatically again to sitting position again when you’re done. You can choose to have half of it fold or the whole thing. Watching that power automatic maneuver work was like a dream: In an instant it demolished the traumatic memories from years I spent as a child watching my father struggle to get poorly designed rear seats to lie flat via the weird latches and hinges automakers affixed to them. Any time he’d try to jam a new appliance or a bicycle or something electronic into the back of our minivan became a time-consuming and emotionally draining (for us all) endeavor. Thank you, Ford, for undoing that preteen angst that even a therapist would struggle to unravel.
Would I buy the Ford Explorer Platinum if I were in the market for a new car? My own character prefers the soul-affirming, road-hugging performance of a coupe rather than an SUV, and my child-free life in Manhattan means I usually don’t need anything more than two seats. I like to travel light. But I can’t deny how much fun I had with my friends on our Jersey excursion—and the fact is, it would have been severely dampened in something less spacious and capable. And trying to fit all that booze I bought into a sports car? Forget about it.
But enough about the shopping trip. The Ford Explorer has long been the bestselling midsize SUV in the country. After a weekend of putting it to the test, it’s easy to see why.