Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A white 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch is shown from the front driving on a road in front of yellow grass and a tree.

Living Up to Its Name: The 2021 Ford Explorer

As it enters the second year of its sixth generation, the 2021 Ford Explorer is exactly what it needs to be: reliable, comfortable, enjoyable, safe, and ready to go as your next adventure partner. The 2021 Ford Explorer has been crafted to live up to its name in every sense. Exploration is about challenging boundaries, finding new favorites, and opening the mind to new possibilities. Ford has captured the essence of the modern adventurer with a straightforward yet customizable interior, driver and passenger amenities that will keep you connected and cozy no matter how long the drive, and plenty of choices when it comes to power, luxury, and rugged capability. Whether you need cargo space or extra seating, the Explorer has you covered. If you’re looking for a mobile office or campsite on wheels, the Explorer is ready to hit the road. The 2021 Explorer intertwines innovation and adaptability to test the limits of what a mid-size SUV can really do.

Introducing the 2021 Ford Explorer

The 2021 Ford Explorer is a three-row, mid-size SUV crossover that can seat up to seven passengers. The interior is spacious, allowing drivers to accommodate a significant amount of cargo or passengers. With all seats occupied, the space behind the third row of seats provides 18.2 cubic feet of space for luggage, sleeping bags, or supplies for your weekend trip. When the second and third rows are folded down, the Explorer can stash up to 87.8 cubic feet of prized antiques, wine country finds, or your buddy’s furniture for his big uptown move. The Explorer also measures 48.1 inches across at the narrowest part of the cargo hold, with reversible carpet/vinyl flooring to best suit the contents making the voyage with you.

The maximum towing capacity across the 2021 lineup of Explorers is 5,600 pounds, perfect for the extra toys and equipment you might want to bring with you on your ongoing adventures. Even the hybrid version offers a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, an impressive figure for an electric/gasoline-powered vehicle. The Explorer certainly provides plenty of space and towing power to get your stuff where it needs to go.

A blue 2021 Ford Explorer ST is shown from the side driving in front of a rock face.

The 2021 Ford Explorer Engine Options

The 2021 Ford Explorer is offered with four different engines, which are largely tied to the various trims available. The base Explorer, XLT, and Limited trims feature a 2.3L turbocharged inline-4 engine that sets things off on the right foot with a mighty 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard, as is a 10-speed automatic transmission; however, drivers can opt for all-wheel drive. In contrast, all-wheel drive is standard on the 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6 that Ford provides on the high-performance ST and luxurious Platinum trims. The ST version is sport-tuned for 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, while the Platinum version zips along in style with 365 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque.

The Hybrid version of the 2021 Ford Explorer pairs an electric motor to a 3.3L V6 engine for a culmination of 318 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque. Not only is the Hybrid capable of towing as much as its gasoline-only powered siblings, but it also isn’t lacking in cargo space. Ford has stashed the lithium-ion battery pack under the rear passenger seats, eliminating any battery bulge in the cabin.

The all-wheel drive system available in the lower trims and standard on ST and Platinum has been innovatively designed to improve overall fuel economy and performance simultaneously. This truly impressive feat is accomplished with an all-wheel drive system that intelligently disconnects the front axle when it’s not needed, such as when driving long stretches on the freeway. For those driving the base Explorer, XLT, and Limited trims, fuel economy will provide you with around 21 miles per gallon city and 28 miles per gallon highway for rear-wheel drive models. This drops only slightly to 20 miles per gallon city and 27 miles per gallon highway when paired with all-wheel drive.

Comparatively, the ST and Platinum trims, which are equipped with standard all-wheel drive, lose just a few miles of fuel economy with their more powerful engines. The ST averages 18 miles per gallon city and 24 miles per gallon highway, while the Platinum comes in at 18 miles per gallon city and 26 miles per gallon highway. The Hybrid, of course, comes with a fuel economy more befitting a large sedan, cruising at 27 miles per gallon city and 28 miles per gallon highway for rear-wheel drive models, and 23 and 26 miles per gallon, respectively, for all-wheel drive versions.

Additionally, the Terrain Management System that accompanies all-wheel drive Explorers features selectable modes such as Sport, Slippery, Deep Snow/Sand, and Tow/Haul. Each option includes specific settings for throttle response, steering, traction control, transmission shifting, and torque power that assist both you and the Explorer in these conditions. A similar version is offered on the rear-wheel drive models, as well.

Trims and Features of the 2021 Ford Explorer

The brown leather seats, dashboard and infotainment screen are shown in a 2021 Ford Explorer.

As mentioned, the 2021 Ford Explorer is offered in five trims. The Hybrid engine is an available option on the Limited trim only, which means Hybrid Explorers will feature the same offerings as the gasoline-powered Limited trim, with a few display options that will help drivers track electric motor performance and range.

The base trim is simply known as “Explorer” and provides the necessities. All seats are covered in a comfortable cloth upholstery, including the second-row bench seat that folds 35/30/35 to accommodate a variety of cargo and passenger configurations. The third-row seat offers a 50/50 split, as well. Necessities such as tri-zone automatic climate control, a power tailgate, an 8-inch touchscreen with satellite radio, and integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Ford also provides a robust standard CoPilot360 suite of driver assistance technology, including lane keep assist with alerts, a rearview camera with its own washer, and a sensing system with braking assist when traveling in reverse.

The XLT trim has been granted new features for 2021, including heated front seats, which are also power adjustable for full comfort. The second-row bench is replaced with captain’s chairs and given two USB ports and a console. Roof rack side rails are also included, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and keyless entry and ignition.

Stepping up to the Limited trim grants drivers leather upholstery with ventilated and heated front seats and more driver assistance features. The Limited adds a 360-degree camera system, forward sensing system, and voice-activated touchscreen navigation. The sound system is upgraded to a 12 speaker Bang & Olufsen version, and the second row gets heated seats and window shades.

The ST trim showcases the sportier side of the 2021 Ford Explorer, including paddle shifters, leather-trimmed sports seats, and a heated sport-style steering wheel. The independent front and rear suspension systems have been sport-tuned, and the instrument cluster transforms into a 12.3-inch digital display that can be configured to your driving needs. A minimalistic “Calm” screen is also available for those who prefer fewer distractions.

At the top of the pack is the Platinum trim. The interior is swathed in soft-touch leather and real wood, with front seats that offer a choice of five different massage settings as you zip from location to location. A twin-panel moonroof provides stunning views of the world through which your adventures take you. Adaptive LED headlamps help round out the overall opulence and carefree traveling the most luxurious type of Explorer can bring.

Get Out There and Explore

For those who feel the call to explore the world around them, there may be no more appropriate vehicle than the aptly-named Ford Explorer. The 2021 model provides a variety of trim options that are quickly customized to fit the needs of drivers, passengers, and cargo alike, with seats that fold flat in sections and ample space for both people and things. Additionally, the power supply has been carefully considered, with trims receiving engines that are fine-tuned to the adventures each Explorer will likely encounter. A Hybrid option helps save on fuel expenses, while the ST trim provides sports-tuned capabilities that might make you forget you’re driving a three-row SUV. Ford once again provides drivers with the opportunity to transform the act of getting from one place to another into a true voyage, full of comfort, convenience, and freedom to explore.