Charlevoix, Michigan (The Detroit News/TNS) — Pickups make all the headlines as vehicle workhorses. With a ladder frame and rear bed, she can tow 10,000 pounds while carrying a 2,500-pound load capacity and her four workers the size of football players. But what if you don’t need all that utility all the time? What if you need a part-time workhorse? What if you could get by with a simple SUV?
It’s worth noting that the good old Ford Explorer SUV can.
When my young sons started racing go-karts in the early 2000s, they didn’t need a pickup to carry their goods. On a tight budget, for summer weekends he rents a U-Haul trailer, loads up with a 100cc Birrell racing kart and spares, and drives his 2005 Chrysler Pacifica SUV in his midsize three-row seat (ex. Pacifica was his SUV). before being reborn as a minivan in 2017). With 3,500 pounds of towing capacity, his beefy V6 engine, wide hatchback and second row captain’s chair, the Pacifica was more than adequate for our needs.
It was my wife’s daily driver on weekdays. The weekend was on the Payne Racing rig. We sold it when the kids flew out of the cabin to go to college, but the Chrysler was the best family car we’ve owned.
So when a friend of mine in Charlevoix asked if I’d tow his yacht out of Ann Arbor this fall, I jumped at the chance. , because I wanted to see what a modern SUV could do.
My tester, the latest 2022 Timberline trim in Ford’s popular midsize 3-row Explorer, is the latest version of the old Pacifica. Handsome, smooth-riding, practical and muscular. It is a shade of blue like my Pacifica.
Even as government nannies pushed automakers to ditch the V-6 for the Turbo 4, Ford’s engineers managed to build a sturdier 4-banger. Tipping the scales at 4,565 pounds, the Explorer Timberline puts out 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque to his four wheels, compared to his 250 horsepower and 250 torque on the 4,720-pound Pacifica. The current generation Explorer has also been designed to be rear-wheel drive based, providing improved towing capacity.
The result is increased efficiency and performance with a towing capacity of 21 mpg and 5,300 lbs versus the Pacifica’s 20 mpg and 3,500 lbs.
And the new Explorer looks like the old Pacifica. The rear driver proportions, long bonnet and sculpted shoulders still command attention three years after his debut at the Detroit Motor Show. With their signature horizontal LED eyebrows, you can see them approaching from a mile away.
My Timberline in blue swaggered into Ann Arbor to pick up my shipment on Saturday morning. An 18ft Fixed Keel Precision 185 yacht anchored to a custom made trailer to accommodate the boat’s 3.5ft draft. gross weight? About 1,500 lbs.
Hooked up the trailer (the boat was already strapped down and the masts were neatly positioned bow to stern so as not to interfere with the Explorer hatch), crossed the chains, connected the lights, and the third Fixed the wheels. Then, I tackled the hard part: If needed, he could comfortably fit two people in the second row with luggage, a tennis bag, a Craftsman toolbox, and multiple boat accessories (a hard-to-use spare wooden including seats) were placed in the rear cargo compartment.
To accommodate the long central bulkhead, the ’40’ seats had to be placed in a 60-40 split, otherwise the Explorer hatch would swallow all the boat’s accessories, luggage and more. I recommend having someone who knows about boats (I’m a Landrubber at Motorhead), like my friend’s neighbor, check strap tension, tires, etc. before you leave.
I chose TOW/HAUL on the Explorer and slowly made my way through the streets of the Ann Arbor neighborhood. The explorer towed the boat with ease. No shaking. No bounce.
Timberline features the latest safety features such as Blind Spot Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control. Ford calls the system his CoPilot 360 Assist, with lane-keeping assist that mimics autonomous driving. When fully engaged, a green steering wheel will appear on your dashboard. Heading north into US 23, with the 360 Assist on, the 360 Assist did most of his 4 hour trip at 75-80 mph on the highway. The SUV kept its lane and kept its distance from the vehicle.
That consistency gave us time to explore the SYNC5 infotainment system. This is one of the best in the industry (electron lightyears from Pacifica) and it was easy to find his SIRIUS XM station to my liking. The SYNC5 also features wireless smartphone technology (Pacifica had her BS — it existed before smartphones), allowing us to make calls and check-in with Mrs. Payne on the long drive north .
Towing a tall 1,500-pound rig was surprisingly easy, but the payload took a toll on fuel economy.
My horse, which is rated at 21 mpg, consumed gas at a rate of 9.9 mpg during the trip — only getting 45% of the expected range. Ah. The cruising range is as insecure as an electric car. As an exception, there are petrol stations everywhere.
As it turned out, my two-stop refueling strategy was similar to the one I used on my EV trip north to Charlevoix, but much shorter. I filled up with regular gas at $3.69 a gallon at Bay City and Gaylord. Marathon gas stations cater to truckers and trailers with a ton of pump rooms, and I sought them out during my travels.
The Explorer reached 200 miles of range in just 3 minutes. The equivalent mileage would take 30 minutes in an EV.
Explorer was smart. When I restart the Ford in TOW/HAUL mode, a message appears on the screen that the trailer is attached, then the trailer blinds his spot he assists and rear his cross his traffic his alert I got another message saying it was disabled.
When it refueled at Gaylord for the second time, Ford’s computer adapted to the haul job and predicted it would only go 167 miles on the fuel tank, compared to 483 miles on normal highway. Good to know. He arrived in Charlevoix 4 hours and 25 minutes after departure, leaving his luggage behind. After unloading the boat, I pushed the Explorer into her SPORT mode and he enjoyed the M-32 Twisty on the way home.
A midsize SUV can feel pretty sporty when you’re free from towing. And it’s much easier to park around town than to pick it up.
2022 Ford Explorer Timberline
Vehicle type: 6-seater SUV with front engine all-wheel drive
Price: $47,540, including destination fee of $1,295 ($48,035 when tested)
Powerplant: 2.3-liter, turbocharged, in-line 4-cylinder
Power: 300 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (car and driver); towing, 5,300 lbs
Weight: 5,827 lbs (tested)
Fuel economy: EPA estimated mpg 19 city/22 highway/21 combined
High point: smooth towing.Highway and infotainment technology for long-distance travel
Low point: The interior is lackluster compared to some rivals.Miss the roar of the old V-6
Overall: 4 Stars