Tested: 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline Can Explore More
Ford puts more “explore” into the Explorer with the addition of the off-road-oriented Explorer Timberline. The trim, which debuted last year, goes beyond a simple appearance package. The 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline includes hardware upgrades for getting farther off the beaten path. These include dampers cribbed from Ford’s Explorer-based Police Interceptor Utility, which work with a set of revised springs and Bridgestone Dueler A/T Revo 3 tires mounted on trim-specific 18-inch wheels to add 0.8 inch to the mid-size SUV’s ground clearance, netting it a total of 8.7 inches.The Blue Oval further fortifies the all-wheel-drive Timberline’s off-pavement capabilities by fitting the model with a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, underbody skid plates, front rebound springs, and restyled fascias. The latter—in conjunction with the vehicle’s increased ride height—afford it improved approach and departure angles of 23.5 and 23.7 degrees. Additionally, the Timberline’s breakover angle of 18.9 degrees improves upon its more tarmac-focused kin by 1.8 degrees. That said, those figures still fall well short of a base four-door Ford Bronco, which has approach, departure, and breakover angles of 35.5, 29.7, and 20.0 degrees, respectively. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to put the Explorer Timberline’s off-road chops to the test during its stay with us. Instead, we spent the bulk of our time driving this Forged Green Ford on the pockmarked pavement and dirt roads of southeast Michigan. In other words, we used it in much the same way most consumers will.The good news is that the adjustments to the Timberline’s springs and dampers, as well as its anti-roll bars, give the model more cohesive suspension characteristics than other current-generation Explorers we’ve tested. Yet, the Timberline still leans heavily in corners and can’t match the supple ride quality of class leaders. The Timberline-specific steering calibration fails to do this Explorer any favors, as the setup feels overboosted and indirect—attributes surely exacerbated by the model’s all-terrain rubber. At the track, the chunky tires proved less of a hindrance to the Explorer than expected, though, with the Timberline’s 0.81 g of lateral grip on the skidpad matching that of a previously tested all-wheel-drive 2020 Explorer XLT equipped with all-season rubber. Additionally, the Timberline needed just 168 feet to come to a stop from 70 mph, or two feet less than the XLT, which took the crown for shortest stopping distance in a five-SUV comparison test. Likewise, the Timberline’s 6.0-second run to 60 mph bested the XLT’s 6.1-second time (the Explorer XLT also took gold with that sprint in the same comparison test). In fact, the Timberline outpaced the XLT in nearly every straight-line acceleration run, this in spite of the two models sharing the same 300-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and 10-speed automatic transmission. Despite its copious grunt, the powertrain fails to charm. Blame the engine’s industrial drone, its relative lack of low-end torque (its maximum of 310 pound-feet peaks at 3500 rpm), and the automatic transmission’s constant gear hunting and occasionally harsh shifts. Compared to other Explorers, the 4565-pound Timberline takes a hit in fuel economy. Its EPA estimates are 21 mpg combined, 19 mpg in the city, and 22 mpg on the highway. Those figures represent a significant drop relative to other 2.3-liter power all-wheel-drive Explorers, which are rated at 23/20/27 mpg (combined/city/highway). We averaged just 18 mpg overall. The Timberline’s Deep Cypress green interior bits with contrasting Deep Tangerine stitching do a nice job of zhooshing up the Explorer’s otherwise dull interior, which is fraught with low-grade materials. And like its lesser siblings, the Timberline’s cabin suffers from a slow-to-respond 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and its third row is cramped. The exterior elements of the Timberline package successfully add a dash of style and excitement with darkened headlight and taillight decor, red tow hooks, and a tough-looking grille with provisions for installing Ford Performance’s $515 auxiliary off-road lights. Add these grille-mounted lamps at your own risk, as the 160,000-candela units light up the road with a death ray at night but bestow the Explorer with cop-car-like looks when viewed from head-on during the daylight, such as in a rearview mirror. Drivers ahead of us in traffic regularly slammed on their brakes to avoid a ticket from the law-enforcement-cosplaying Explorer behind them.At $48,040—just $2420 more than a similarly equipped all-wheel-drive XLT—the 2022 Explorer Timberline makes a strong case relative to its siblings. With its additional off-road capability, cohesive suspension setup, and tough-yet-handsome style, the Explorer Timberline is one of the best iterations of the Explorer available today. Even so, the Timberline fails to fix other issues that plague the Explorer, such as its uncouth four-cylinder powertrain, slow-witted infotainment, and unimpressive interior materials. Buyers in this segment should still explore other options.
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