Starting price: $29,105 (includes $825 delivery)
Base engine: 3.5 liter V-6, 290 horsepower
What's new: Optional four-cylinder EcoBoost engine
If you look up "SUV" in the dictionary, it should have a picture of the Ford Explorer. Ford sold more than 400,000 Explorers per year in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, which made it the perennial best-selling SUV in its heyday. Through October 2011, sales were only 108,944 this year, according to the auto research firm AutoData Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, N.J. However, that was more than double the year-ago period.
The Explorer was redesigned last year. It was taken off a ladder-like frame shared with pickup trucks and switched to a one-piece "unibody" with basic components the Explorer shares with cars such as the Ford Taurus and crossover vehicles such as the Ford Flex.
For 2012, the Explorer gets an optional Ford EcoBoost engine. That hikes the starting price about $1,000, to $29,990. Four-cylinder engines were traditionally considered to be too wimpy for SUVs. Before the latest redesign, the previous models had V-6s or V-8s. The distinction is the new four-cylinder EcoBoost engine is turbocharged, with direct injection. Direct injection shoots computer-controlled squirts of fuel into the combustion chamber under extremely high pressure. The net effect is more power and lower emissions.
The Ford Explorer gets 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. While the EcoBoost is a great innovation for four-cylinder models, the base Explorer model gets a V-6, with 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.