2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid 2021 Review: Unconvincing

2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid 2021 Review: Unconvincing
The Ford Explorer is a very important model for Ford, especially since the year 2011. That was the year the automaker transformed its struggling SUV, sales of which were in the doldrums, by giving it a unibody chassis instead of the old ladder truck structure. The Explorer was reborn as a much more civilized and fashionable SUV.

The success that followed was resounding. Just between 2010 and 2011, sales jumped from 60,687 to 135,704 in the United States, and between 2011 and 2019 sales continued to grow dramatically. In 2017, Ford sold 271,131 versions of its SUV. Even in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, just over 200,000 were snapped up by the end of November. As of September 30, 11,447 units sold in Canada, already far ahead of the 9,000 or so units that sold in all of 2019.

Obviously, the model appeals to many. And there’s no denying it has several qualities. But there are storm clouds swirling above the Explorer. The current generation, introduced for 2020, is having a difficult start. The model’s reputation has taken a hit in the face of production stumbles and several recalls.

It thus behooves us to take a look at the issues the new generation has faced, before getting to the specifics of the hybrid version we very recently test-drove.

2021 Ford Explorer hybrid, lower front end

A torrent of problems

The potholes shook up production pretty much as soon as it began in 2019. In fact, Ford soon found itself with a right mess on its hands, the automaker having to deal with several issues before the vehicle even got into the hands of buyers on a massive scale. Those issues involved the chassis as well as the transmission, which could refuse to set in the stop position. At times, the vehicle did not recognize the transmission and automatically applied the parking brake. Conversely, the computer sometimes had difficulty identifying the position of the transmission, refusing to activate the parking brake.

Some climate control systems only distributed heat, and some models even ended up with no logos or a few missing linings; these are things you hardly ever see. In short, it was a false start, one that led to significant delivery delays, frustrating both dealers and consumers. Thousands of models were affected by the resulting recalls, of which there had been 10 as of December 2020. Enough said.

This is major and it is likely to have a serious impact on the model’s fortunes in the short term. More on that further down, but in the meantime, about the hybrid variant we tried…

2021 Ford Explorer hybrid, hybrid badge

One hybrid version

The Explorer is available in four configurations: XLT, Limited, ST and Platinum. Only one of these, the Limited, is available with a hybrid powertrain.

The Limited version is available for $53,799, before freight and delivery charges ($58,800 as tested). That s $3,000 more than the regular version. Here, I have to call out Ford on its strategy. A few years ago, Lincoln was very happy to pitch its hybrid variant of the MKZ sedan as being offered at the same price as the regular version. A $3,000 surplus is substantial, especially since the gain in fuel economy is rather negligible. Offering both at a single price of $52,799, for example, would have been a savvier approach, in my humble opinion.

And what do buyers get for that price? First, a model that benefits from a unique powertrain, namely a 3.3L V6 delivering 318 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque, working in concert with the manufacturer s 10-speed automatic transmission.
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