The Ford Explorer may not have been the world's first sport-utility vehicle, but it's certainly among the most popular, with more than 5 million sold since its 1991 debut. Skyrocketing gas prices and increased competition from new car-based crossover models have caused Explorer sales to plummet in recent years, but many of the qualities that made this old-school SUV so popular -- including its roomy interior and quiet, comfortable ride quality -- lead us to conclude it still has much to offer a select group of buyers.
Perhaps the 2010 Ford Explorer's biggest advantage over newer midsize crossovers is that its rugged truck-based body-on-frame design gives it a distinct edge in situations like trailer towing and off-roading. Towing capacity is above average and the trailer sway control, part of the standard electronic stability control system, helps minimize white-knuckle moments when towing in gusty crosswinds or making sudden lane changes. Off-road, the availability of a true four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case allows the Explorer to go places where its all-wheel-drive crossover competitors would rightly fear to tread (although competitors like the Jeep Grand Cherokee are preferred for dedicated off-roaders). On pavement, the Explorer remains one of the best handling of all truck-based sport-utility vehicles. A smooth ride and the availability of optional bells and whistles like Ford's Sync system and a cutting-edge navigation system with Sirius Travel Link satellite data service further the Explorer's appeal.
Those strong points aside, the 2010 Ford Explorer gives ground to the crossover competition in several key areas. For example, the standard V6 engine's 210 horsepower feels rather anemic compared to the 262-hp V6 in the Ford Flex crossover. The Explorer's V6 also comes up short in terms of fuel economy at 14 mpg city and 20 highway, versus the front-wheel-drive Flex's 17/24 mpg rating. The Explorer's available 292-hp V8 provides slightly better acceleration and fuel economy than the V6, though its overall performance is still rather unremarkable.
Ultimately, the 2010 Ford Explorer may not be the quickest or most fuel-efficient SUV on the block, but it's still an impressive package. It's civilized enough to schlep the kids and their friends around town, and yet burly enough to pull a 7,000-pound boat trailer down the rough dirt track that leads to your secluded mountain hideaway. Note that these last two points are key because, while they make the Explorer a good choice for buyers in need of those attributes, families who are just looking for generous passenger and cargo room are likely to find that a crossover SUV is a better fit.