Although engine performance is mediocre, the midsize 2008 Ford Explorer deserves consideration from anyone shopping for a traditional SUV with substantial towing and hauling capabilities. But for those who just need a family cruiser, newer seven-passenger crossovers provide more space, superior driving dynamics and slightly better gas mileage.
The king has fallen. For more than a decade, the Ford Explorer was the undisputed ruler of the SUV kingdom and an elemental reason for the sport-utility craze that is still going on. But in recent years the Explorer has been dethroned by several other SUVs, falling precipitously in the sales rankings amidst high gas prices and the success of crossovers. While the 2008 Explorer is the best yet, its truck-based underpinnings are starting to make it look like a dinosaur amongst the new species of crossover SUVs.
This doesn't mean the 2008 Ford Explorer wouldn't be a good choice, especially if you need three rows of usable seating in a midsize SUV body. Ford made substantial upgrades to the Explorer for the 2006 model year that refined its already impressive road manners. We consider it one of the best-handling truck-based SUVs on the market, and its smooth, quiet highway ride makes it a natural road trip candidate. Plus, its truck-based, body-on-frame chassis can handle greater towing loads than crossovers can, and the dual-range gearing of four-wheel-drive models provides a bit more off-road ability.
For 2008, Ford adds its innovative Sync system to the Explorer. This technology, co-developed by Microsoft, allows drivers to control communication and entertainment devices like cell phones, PDAs, iPods and other MP3 players via voice commands. It is a potentially revolutionary technology and a considerable selling point for the aging Explorer. Later in the model year, all Explorers gain a capless fuel-filling system, which cuts gasoline vapor leaks and eliminates the embarrassment of driving off without re-capping your gas tank.
Although the 2008 Ford Explorer has plenty to offer in the way of utility and technology, compared to other traditional, truck-based SUVs, it's lacking in power. The base V6 engine makes only 210 horsepower. Not only is this a low number for this hefty class of vehicles, it's also 53 hp south of Ford's smaller Edge crossover. The optional V8 is smoother and puts up a more impressive 292 hp, but it still lacks the low-end pull of competitors' V8s and, increasingly, their V6s as well.
For buyers who aren't concerned about having the quickest SUV on the block, the Explorer is an impressive package. It's comfortable enough to serve carpool duty, yet rugged enough to handle a 7,000-pound camper or the dirt trail leading to your secluded mountain hideaway. Those last two points are