New Ford Explorer spearheads firm's US-inspired electric reboot

Ford Explorer front static

Explorer will come in 335bhp, 282bhp and 168bhp guises

Most crucial Ford in decades is an electric SUV using a VW platform and a US ethos

Ford’s new era has begun: the Explorer is a European-focused, European-designed and European-built electric SUV channelling the Blue Oval’s American spirit and conceived to do battle in one of the market’s fiercest emerging segments.

Due to start rolling down the production line at Ford’s revamped Cologne factory (where it currently builds the Ford Fiesta) from mid-2023, the squat new crossover measures 4460mm long. This pitches it roughly between the highly competitive small and midsized SUV markets and means it will compete with everything from the Jeep Avenger and Mini Aceman to the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Skoda Enyaq iV.

In this respect and many others, it is the most important new Ford product in decades and will be crucial in paving the way for a totally overhauled – and downsized – range of passenger EVs designed around the concept of ‘American-ness’, far removed from the likes of the Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo that have gone before.

The company’s Europe boss and head of its Model E EV arm, Martin Sander, told Autocar: “If we concentrate a little bit more on the real DNA of this company, really going back to our roots as an American icon, we are the only American, iconic car company still doing business in Europe. I think this is a huge opportunity for us to reposition the brand, and to create a new world of experiences around this DNA.”

The Explorer is the first Ford EV – of two so far confirmed – to use Volkswagen’s MEB electric vehicle platform as part of a partnership in which the US firm reciprocates by building VW-badged commercial vehicles in Turkey and South Africa. Choosing dimensions that put it halfway between the VW ID 3 and ID 4 was a conscious decision to avoid directly competing with those two cars, bosses told Autocar, but it was not a condition of Ford using the platform.

In its most potent form, the Explorer will feature a motor on each axle for a combined 335bhp and 402lb ft – more than any other MEB-based production car currently on sale and sufficient for a sub-6.0sec 0-62mph time. Ford has not yet said if this range-topper will bear the hallowed ST (or even RS) badge but it has confirmed that a dedicated Sport mode will be one of five available on all-wheel-drive cars.

There are also two rear-driven options, one with 168bhp and the other with 282bhp. Battery options have not yet been detailed but Ford is targeting a maximum range of 311 miles from the longest legged ‘Max’ variant. The Explorer is expected to offer an entry-level 52kWh battery and the 77kWh unit that nets a claimed 316 miles per charge in the slightly larger Audi Q4 E-tron – both of which can charge at speeds of 170kW.

But other than the VW Group-supplied fundamentals, the Explorer is a Ford product through and through. “We’re American and we really want to underline that. That’s something that we’re drawing from: our heritage, our past,” Ford exterior design manager Jordan Demkiw told Autocar. In this respect, most obviously, the Explorer is the flag-bearer for a bold new era of Ford styling led by Amko Leenarts, head of the firm’s European design studio.

Leenarts has overseen the styling of every vehicle the brand currently sells in the region and is now leading a ground-up overhaul of its established conventions. All Ford passenger cars will now be categorised according to four new design pillars introduced under the ‘Adventurous Spirit’ banner. There’s ‘Ultimate Outdoor’ for hardcore off-roaders like the Bronco; ‘Wild Performance’ for the Mustang and its sporting siblings; ‘Urban Escape’ for the city-focused Puma; and ‘Active Adventure’ for family SUVs such as the Kuga and the Explorer. Ford is keen to emphasise the difference between this new car and the existing Explorer, a much larger US-focused SUV that will be withdrawn from sale in Europe in the coming months.

Leenarts told Autocar that while the new Explorer is a markedly different proposition from its namesake, it is important that it embodies the same character: “I think it’s not a surprise that it is the first car in our adventurous spirit. It has a market positioning that really helps us get across that adventurous way.” He added that Ford will look to redeploy other historic nameplates, attaching connotations of the firm’s heritage to bold new products. “I think in general, the public loves that we are bringing nameplates to new territories,” he said.

“That’s the goal. You can expand those nameplates in a much more creative way, taking account of the needs of the customer. “And frankly, the Mustang can do it, we proved that the Explorer can do it, and there are a couple of other nameplates that are coming up that we feel that can expand on…” However, he stopped short of naming any specific nameplates for revival. Proportionally, the new Explorer’s minimalist, upright two-box silhouette makes it an obvious relation of the blocky Explorer and Ford’s other US-market icons, the Bronco and F-150, but the design team have used “all the tricks in the book”, according to senior designer Liviu Tudoran, to ensure it is both as aerodynamically efficient and internally spacious as possible.

According to the car’s designers, its bluff front end with the larger new logo, the beltline that wraps around the entire car, the ‘generous’ wheel arches and the floating roof with contrasting black A-pillars are some of its defining features. The designers are also keen to emphasise that while the Explorer represents a departure from the established conventions of Ford design, future models will not follow a ‘Russian doll’ approach in adopting the same cues and proportions. “Each car will have its own unique character,” said Demkiw. Boosting interior space compared with same-sized ICE propositions was a priority for the design team, who tout the flat floor and modularity of the MEB platform as allowing the Explorer to offer ‘large car’ qualities in a relatively compact footprint.

There is no storage under the bonnet but, like the Puma, the Explorer is equipped with a ‘secret’ load bay under the boot floor and the 17-litre ‘Megaconsole’ cubby between the two front seats is one of the largest fitted to any production car. Boot space is put at 450 litres with the seats up – bigger than in the Mustang Mach-E – and 1400 litres with them folded. The load floor can also be raised or lowered according to requirements.

Ulrich Koesters, director of Ford’s Team Edison division for electrified vehicle development, explained that the Explorer’s spacious cabin should put it on the radar of current Focus owners when they come to switch to an EV. He said: “They will want to have the same or more functionality and a smaller footprint. And that’s what this vehicle actually does because it’s building a little bit taller but has better package efficiency so therefore you create more space for the occupants. You have more shoulder and knee room in the rear, more space around you in the front and good luggage size as well.”

The focus on ease of use extends to the cockpit area, where the standard-fitment 15.0in portrait touchscreen – running the latest version of Ford’s Sync infotainment platform – is mounted on hinges so it can be fixed flat upright or reclined up to 30deg. The former facilitates a “more active” driving style, according to Ford, as well as freeing up another 1.7-litre storage tray.

Tilting the screen means it can be used in a more relaxed manner, with an elbow resting on the centre console. The screen controls most key functions and has a permanently visible and accessible climate control interface. The Explorer is also equipped with physical and haptic controls that can be used easily on the move, including a vibrating, illuminating touch slider for the volume.

Source: Autocar

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