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The New, Improved 2021 Ford Explorer

Art Michalik

The Ford Explorer received a significant overhaul in 2020 to great acclaim. Let’s take a look at what Ford has in store for the 2021 Ford Explorer.

What’s New for the 2021 Ford Explorer

2021 Ford Explorer - media.ford.com

2021 Ford Explorer – media.ford.com |  Shop 2021 Ford Explorer on Carsforsale.com

As the Explorer was all-new for the 2020 model year, there are just a few small changes and updates made for 2021. The interior finishes of the top-level Limited, ST, and Platinum trims were upgraded after criticism of the materials in the 2020 model.

The XLT trim now features heated front seats as standard equipment and a heated steering wheel as an optional feature on that model. Also included is an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat on the Limited, ST, and Platinum models. A new cargo organizer is optional on XLT, Limited, and ST models while the Platinum trim receives this feature as standard.

2021 Ford Explorer - ford.com
2021 Ford Explorer - ford.com

Mechanical updates include upgraded brakes for the ST trim models and transmission paddle shifters are now standard on the Limited Hybrid, ST and Platinum trim. And, of course, the annual changeover of paint colors and wheel styles. The most significant change is the MSRP. The base price drops by $540, while savings on some upper trim levels range from $2,000 and $4,000.

Body Style

Starting Price

MSRP $32,675

Drivetrain

Drivetrain

RWD or AWD

Drivetrain

Fuel Economy

27 City / 28 Hwy (MPG)

Number of Seats

Seating

Seats 6-7

The Breakdown

Decent engine options including hybrid

Interior design is eye catching

Third-row seating is cramped

Interior materials are still lacking

More passenger room would be nice

2021 Ford Explorer Specs

Trims & Pricing

Base - $33,470
XLT - $35,245
Limited - $46,250
Limited Hybrid - $50,600
ST - $53,850
Platinum - $55,725

2021 Ford Explorer Powertrain

2021 Ford Exploerer I4 - carsforsale.com
2021 Ford Exploerer I4 - carsforsale.com

Standard on 2021 Ford Explorer models with the base, XLT, and Limited trims is a 2.3L turbocharged I4 that produces 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, a power output that meets or exceeds more competitors. A 10-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive are standard, with all-wheel-drive optional. Standard on the Platinum is a 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6 that develops 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. Only the V8-powered Dodge Durango offers more power.

The Explorer ST gets an enhanced version of the same V6 engine, good for 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. Ford claims a zero to 60 mph time of 5.5 seconds. That’s in the range of many 1960s muscle cars, which is certainly quick, but not as fast as we’d expect given its power and competitors’ performance.

2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid V6 - carsforsale.com
2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid V6 - carsforsale.com

The Hybrid Powertrain

The Explorer Hybrid pairs a 3.3L naturally-aspirated V6 with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack (located under the passenger-side cabin). The system’s total combined output is an impressive 318 hp. This 2021 Explorer Hybrid beats the Highlander Hybrid in towing capacity at 5,000 lbs. versus 3,500. It all depends on what’s more important to you.

2021 Ford Explorer Fuel Economy & MPG

Fuel economy matches the current segment best with rear-wheel drive getting 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined. It lowers to an equally competitive 20/27/23 with AWD. The rear-wheel drive Hybrid achieves 27 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 27 mpg combined. All-wheel drive on Hybrid Explorers lowers fuel economy to 23 mpg city, 26 mph highway and 25 mpg combined. Those numbers may seem a little low for a hybrid, as the all-wheel-drive 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid delivers 35 mpg combined.

Interior, Comfort, & Cargo Space

The 2021 Ford Explorer’s cabin is stylish, functional, and comfortable, but maybe not for third-row passengers. Older kids and adults will find that the rear seat is too close to the floor to be comfortable. However, climbing into the standard third-row seats is now easier thanks to a button-operated system that moves the second-row seat out of the way. The Ford Explorer has enough rear cargo room to fit four carry-on suitcases behind the Ford’s third row and fit a total of 31 bags with both back rows folded flat. Upfront, there’s a significant improvement over fifth-generation models. Across the line, the door panels and the dashboard feature well-fitted and mostly soft-touch materials.

Entertainment & Technology

2021 Ford Explorer - ford.com
2021 Ford Explorer - ford.com

An 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment is standard and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, while users can connect their smartphone to others through the built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. All models are available with voice-activated navigation as well as a rear-seat entertainment system. Apart from the base Explorer, a 12-speaker B&O audio system is standard.

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Controls are easy to use as the climate-control buttons are well laid out, and the radio can be controlled by intuitive tuning and volume knobs. The central touchscreen display is well-organized and easy to read. A larger 10.1-inch touchscreen is optional on the Platinum and ST, but doesn’t add any functionality.

Safety Features

The 2021 Ford Explorer earned a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Although, due to an ‘acceptable’ score in the small-overlap front crash test, it just missed out on a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Explorer is fitted with a host of standard driver-assistance technology and upgrades like self-parking assist. Key standard safety features include standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist

2021 Ford Explorer Trims & Pricing

2021 Ford Explorer - carsforsale.com
2021 Ford Explorer - carsforsale.com

Base – $33,470

The base Explorer comes with a 300 horsepower 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a 10-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive. Standard features include cloth upholstery, a power liftgate, tri-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, remote start, and the SYNC 3 infotainment system with an 8-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, USB ports, six speakers, satellite radio, and a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Standard active safety features include a rearview camera, MyKey, driver drowsiness monitoring, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, forward automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection. Some of these features are part of Ford’s Co-Pilot360 suite of safety technology.

2021 Ford Explorer XLT - ford.com
2021 Ford Explorer XLT - ford.com

XLT – $35,245

In addition to the base trim’s features, the XLT comes with second-row captain’s chairs with a power-assist fold, heated front seats, and additional USB ports. The Explorer ramps up the off-roading capability in XLT form as well. Using the Terrain Management system, you can select between these distinct drive modes: Normal, Trail, Deep snow/sand, Slippery, Sport, Tow/Haul and Eco.

2021 Ford Explorer Limited - ford.com
2021 Ford Explorer Limited - ford.com

Limited – $46,250

The 2021 Ford Explorer Limited gains leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, power-folding third-row seats, a heated steering wheel, a hands-free power liftgate, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, a household-style power outlet, and wireless device charging.

The Limited offers additional safety features, including a surround-view parking camera system, front parking sensors, and Co-Pilot360 Assist+ (adaptive cruise control, lane centering, traffic sign recognition, evasive steering assist, and navigation).

2021 Ford Explorer ST - ford.com
2021 Ford Explorer ST - ford.com

ST – $53,850

The 2021 Ford Explorer ST is the sportiest trim in the lineup, and it features a 400 horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine. It also comes with a sport-tuned suspension, four-wheel drive, sport seats, reverse brake assist, and parallel and perpendicular park assist.

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum - ford.com
2021 Ford Explorer Platinum - ford.com

Platinum – $55,725

The top-of-the-line Platinum edition features a 365 horsepower version of the same engine in the ST trim. The Platinum comes with upgraded interior materials and a twin-panel moonroof, and a high-end 980 watt, 14-speaker B&O audio system by Bang & Olufsen. The Platinum is available only with four-wheel drive and comes with the tow package and front and rear skid plates.

Warranties

The standard limited warranty of the 2021 Ford Explorer covers 3 years or 36,000 miles. The powertrain warranty covers 5 years or 60,000 miles, aligning with most competitors’ plans, though it doesn’t provide complimentary maintenance offered by Toyota and Chevy.

What we think

2021 Ford Explorer - ford.com

2021 Ford Explorer – ford.com |  Shop 2021 Ford Explorer on Carsforsale.com

The Ford Explorer is a massive improvement over its predecessor. It now offers a lineup of potent turbocharged engines that deliver a substantial trailer towing capacity. It provides decent fuel economy mileage and a smooth ride. It also has plenty of cargo space and a long list of standard features that include several active safety technologies and an intuitive infotainment system.

However, the Explorer’s third-row seats aren’t as spacious or comfortable as those of many rivals, and the cabin quality is lackluster, with materials more commonly seen in economy models. The base Explorer is generously appointed, but we suggest stepping up to the XLT trim for its nicer interior and additional convenience features. It comes with a few more features and offers several upgrades, like the heated steering wheel, that you can’t get in the base Explorer.

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Art Michalik
Art Michalik

Art Michalik brings a career full of experience in the automotive industry to his writing. He has guided marketing at two major tire companies, represented some of the biggest names in the automotive aftermarket at an ad agency, built the enthusiast social media presence at a major online retailer and even managed one of the most famous racing schools in the world.

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