First ride: Ford Explorer

What can you learn from the wrong side of the car in 15 minutes on slow suburban roads?

Well, we certainly can’t verify or refute Ford’s lofty claims that the Explorer will be more dynamically adept than its Volkswagen Group platform-mates, though our chauffeur seemed to relish the opportunity to put it in Sport mode and throw it into some of the tighter bends on our route, if that’s any indication…

What struck me, watching from the passenger seat, was the more overtly sporting posture facilitated by the ‘squircle’ (that’s Ford parlance, categorically not mine) steering wheel, compared to a conventional round item.

It seems to encourage a more purposeful grip and exacerbates the responsiveness of the steering that, even from the other side of the centre console, looked to be at once more direct and communicative than anything I’ve tried on the MEB platform so far.

We were in the single-motor rear-driven car, so had a ‘mere’ 282bhp at our disposal on the straightaways, which of course is more than sufficient in such a practicality-focused proposition.

In Sport mode, there was a perceptible urgency to its acceleration, albeit delivered in a smooth, fluid manner that mitigated the uncomfortable head lolling you might be susceptible to as a passenger in other SUVs with this much power.

I can tell you that the Explorer rode compliantly and quietly over the worst bits of our lap of Nice, with no especially overt tyre roar or wind noise to speak of – though we only breached the heady heights of 50kmh on a few occasions.

It’s probably best to wait until we drive it to make any categoric conclusions on these dynamic attributes, but the elements I can talk about with some degree of conviction at this stage happen to be those that Ford is keenest to show off.

The interior design, for example, is a pretty radical departure from the Ford cabins to which we’ve become accustomed.

At once more daring in its striking, multi-layered surfacing and more thoughtfully arranged, it compares well to the likes of the Skoda Enyaq and Hyundai Ioniq 5 in outright flair and ergonomics, while giving promising signs of how Ford can make its interiors as appealing as its exteriors, finally.

Unfortunately, the VW Group’s influence extends to the much-derided haptic steering wheel controls – Ford makes much of the improvement opportunities afforded by a six-month delay in launching the Explorer, but confoundingly hasn’t rectified this.

Here’s hoping for the facelift…So too are the gloss plastics on the centre console and faintly utilitarian, scratchy lower surfaces slightly disappointing in the context of a £40,000 car, though the higher-spec Premium car goes some way to ramping up the quality – both perceived and actual.

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