New Car Review: 2012 Ford Explorer

Brown 2012 Ford Explorer front three-quarters view against rocky hills
The 2012 Ford Explorer.

One of the maddening things about car buying these days is the wide price range for the same vehicle. It's caused by multiple trim levels. Case in point: The Ford Explorer. You can get it in four different levels...Explorer, Explorer XLT, Explorer Limited and Explorer Sport. And from the Explorer to the Explorer Sport, there's an $11,585 price spread.

That's a chunk considering the base price of the base model is $29,135 (we're comparing 2-wheel drive models here. 4X4 costs extra).

13 months ago, we reviewed the Explorer and said "The price is right."

For that one, it was. It was a four-wheel drive XLT, which started at $33,190 and with options rang in at $37,505...a fortuitous price point for Ford, since it was $580 below the Jeep Grand Cherokee that charmed its way into the TireKicker Top Ten Cars (So Far) the month before and still is on the list.

Rear three-quarters view of the 2012 Ford Explorer in desert hills
The 2012 Ford Explorer.
This time around, Ford sent over a four-wheel drive Limited. And instantly, the base price of that test vehicle is $620 more than the as-equipped bottom line of the last one...$38,125.

Now, at that point, regular readers know that we'd counsel extreme caution with the option list. And, to their credit, the folks in Ford's press fleet office ordered only one option....Option Package 302A. 

Which costs $5,600.

Even Ford knows that's asking. On the Explorer configuration page of their website, Ford makes a point of letting you know that $5,600 is only an extra $72 a month. And you do get a lot for your money...voice activation, luxury seating, power-folding third row seats, a power liftgate, blind spot monitoring, inflatable seat belts, active park assist, adaptive cruise control and collision warning, rain-sensing wipers and projector headlamps.

You also get a price sticker that, at the very bottom reads:


Color me cheap, but that's a chunk of change for what's supposed to be a mid-size SUV (the Escape's the baby, the Expedition is the big one). And the EPA estimated 17 city/23 highway gas mileage isn't a money-saver, either.

In the lower two trim levels, the value argument can be made for the Ford Explorer. It's a handsome, capable, comfortable SUV. But once you start tickling (and passing) 50 large with tax and license, that argument goes right out the window.

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