Ford Explorer: The Blue Oval's new Electric Vehicle.

Ford Explorer: The Blue Oval’s new Electric Vehicle. Subscribe to Electric Vehicle News Bitesize Podcast for FREE to hear more!

Here’s the new 2023 Ford Explorer, the Blue Oval’s first Euro-focused Electric Vehicle, with a Volkswagen ID4 under the bodywork.

The mid-size electric SUV is the first result of the two companies’ 2019 technology alliance, and the Explorer is slightly smaller than the ID4: a similarly sized rival is the Kia Niro Electric. Ford will open order books in spring 2023, with the first cars due to debut in the UK around the beginning of the year. Expect prices to start at nearly £40,000.

Use of the American name reflects a shift in Ford strategy. Ditch the canceled Fiesta and Focus European hatchbacks and introduce an electric model with Ford’s American pedigree to make it stand out. So when the project kicked off in mid-2020, the design team knew they were going to create an Explorer.

Because of this, the car is unmistakably a straight-line hatchback SUV. Its looks trade any sportiness for power. Unlike the sloping VW, the roof is fairly level, with the pillars blacked out to give it a “floating” roof effect, like the larger Explorer.

The pillars inside the rear doors have the same “sail” shape as its American cousin, but here it’s punctuated with a translucent silver-gray.

The Explorer is 12 centimetres lower than the ID4: the Ford is 4.46 meters long overall, shortened due to the shorter rear overhang. This reduces the luggage compartment by 93 litres, for a total of 450 litres.

The Ford and VW are about the same width and wheelbase because they have the same battery packs: adding differentiation requires a big investment.

While sharing the battery, motor, suspension and key dimensions, Ford also designed a unique “top hat” for the MEB platform. The proportions and greenhouse betray VW’s underpinnings, though Ford says it pushed back the windshield.

“The Explorer’s proportions are very good,” said Jordan Demkiw, head of the exterior design team. “The overall diameter of the wheels is large, the overhangs are short, the bonnet is relatively long and the cab is set back slightly. The glass to body ratio is good and it’s a car that stands well on wheels.” Alloy sizes from 19 inches to 21 inches.

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A big leap of faith was the removal of the trapezoidal grille found on current Ford vehicles. “We’ve been thinking about this,” admits Murat Güler, chief designer for passenger cars. “With EVs, you can take away that element, but you still want to give the car a strong personality. Some EVs look a little featureless, like fudge!

Two liquid-cooled battery packs with installed capacities of 55 kWh and 82 kWh will be available at launch. Ford doesn’t say how much is available, but the ID4’s comparisons are 52 and 77 kWh.

There are three electric motor options, and the flagship has rear-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive. Here’s how the spec breaks down:

55kWh battery: 125kW e-motor (168bhp), rear-wheel drive, 218-mile range

82kWh battery: 210kW e-motor (282bhp), rear-wheel drive, 335-mile range

82kWh battery: 250kW e-motor (335bhp), four-wheel drive, 305-mile range

The 250kW flagship Explorer splits power between two axles, adding an asynchronous motor at the front to provide torque when driving on hard or slippery surfaces. In true American spirit, Ford has specified a towing capacity of 1200kg for this model, or 1000kg for the 210kW 82kWh model.

The Explorer can be charged on a 7kW AC wallbox and has two ultra-fast DC charging capabilities. The fastest DC charging power for the 55kWh battery is fixed at 130kW, while the 82kWh pack can fast charge up to 170kW.

The 55 and 82 kWh batteries take the same amount of time to charge using a DC ultra-fast charger, going from 10% to 80% in about 25 minutes. A heat pump is optional and can be used to regulate the cabin climate without draining the battery.

Ford hasn’t released performance figures or any technical details yet, but the ID4 specs give a strong indication. 125kW ID4 accelerates from standstill to 100km an hour in 9 seconds: expect the base Ford to achieve a similar time, although it should be slightly lighter.

Fans will note that the ID4 won’t come with 210 or 250kW, although that may change when VW unveils its next-gen tech for the upcoming ID7 sedan. The flagship ID4 is the GTX with 220 kW and a sprint time of 6.2 seconds.

And can the VW-with-a-new-top-hat drive like a Ford? ‘The springs, dampers and anti-roll bar are all tuned to the Ford philosophy,’ promises engineering manager Thomas Riehm. ‘There’s been a lot of adaptation: the steering and brakes are tailored to the Fordness people are used to.’

The car also features custom Continental tires. Test drives in the autumn will show whether Ford can refresh the MEB’s solid but hardly exciting power.

Interior quality and aesthetics take a massive step forward compared with recent Ford’s bleak and cheap cabins. ‘They weren’t because our colour and material designers weren’t as creative as others,’ says Murat Güler.

‘Ford has put money into the suspension and other places which consumers can’t see, but enthusiasts feel. That’s maybe one of the reasons we couldn’t go as bold as the French or others.’

The car shown is Explorer Premium, but a two-tone dashboard is standard across the range. The light gray lower half adds ambiance, and the horizontal sections, including subtle ventilation strips, continue the exterior design theme. No leather option: The seats are partially or fully upholstered in sporty man-made Sensico.

A few parts are shared with the VW, including the rotary gear selector (though it’s adjacent to the steering column next to the driver’s display) and a pair of nifty window switches where you use a toggle button to switch between front and rear controls.

Key features are the huge touchscreen and lots of storage. The 15-inch screen is mounted in portrait mode to provide maximum space for its navigation maps and widgets. Ford thinks its Apple CarPlay display is the largest ever, and should make it easy to browse while you’re on the road. The climate controls have no physical controls, but a slider can be permanently displayed at the bottom of the screen.

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One of Ford’s innovations is that you can rotate the screen 30 degrees to find the angle you like. Slide it all the way back to reveal a storage compartment for your wallet or keys. It is mechanical for a quick and easy user experience.

Beneath the armrest is a MegaConsole (Ford’s marketing term) that can hold a laptop or three 1.5-litre drink bottles: just remove the adjacent cupholders to widen the opening, or they’ll be in your way. The cavernous cubby can be divided with a divider that doubles as an ice scraper (a nice Skoda touch). When storage space is a car’s biggest USP, the pulse hardly picks up.

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Ford said it would invest $50bn (£41bn) in electrification over the next four years. As a result, half of its global sales will be fully electric by 2030, by which time all European passenger cars should be strictly zero-emission.

For years, Ford has struggled to remain profitable on the continent, despite battling GM’s option to exit the continent entirely. But that’s why Ford, which is much smaller than a big auto giant like Volkswagen or Stellantis, has been forced to strike a short-term Electric Vehicle technology deal. A second model, likely a coupe version of the Explorer, similar to the relationship between the ID5 and ID4, is due in 2024.

‘The Fiesta and Focus are making way for a new Ford strategy in Europe,’ counters a Ford spokesperson. ‘We’re not going to be the same company that people grew up with, going after volume and playing in every single segment. We’re going to double down on differentiated vehicles that get your pulse racing more.’

So does Explorer get your heart racing? Or is it a utilitarian car that lacks true Ford authenticity, or is it an alluring product of ownership grafting unique Ford bodywork on proven Volkswagen engineering? It will be interesting to see how you and buyers react…

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Ford Explorer: The Blue Oval's new Electric Vehicle.
Subscribe to Electric Vehicle News Bitesize Podcast for FREE to hear more!