2021 Ford Expedition vs Explorer
The popularity of three-row SUVs continues to rise. One of the segment’s most popular models is the 2021 Ford Explorer. Families enjoy its comfortable interior and fresh exterior styling. However, drivers who need a larger and more capable SUV should strongly consider the 2021 Ford Expedition. In this head-to-head comparison, we’ll reveal which one of these Ford SUVs is the better option.
Size and Styling
When checking out these vehicles, car shoppers will immediately notice a difference in size. While the 2021 Ford Explorer is classified as a full-size model, the 2021 Ford Expedition is a full-size SUV. There’s definitely no overlooking the Expedition’s extra length. It’s nearly a foot longer than the Explorer. Because of the Explorer’s smaller size, parking will be easier. A lower ride height also makes it easier for passengers to step inside the Explorer.
These SUVs have a completely different look. The Expedition has a boxier shape. Unique LED headlights a more rugged front fascia further set apart the larger Expedition. A cool Black Accent package is optional on the Expedition's XLT trim. Meanwhile, larger 22-inch black wheels and black-housed lights come with the avaialble Stealth package.
Expect the Explorer to look sleeker and more athletic than the Expedition. LED headlights come standard. Quad chrome exhaust outlets, a mesh grille, and blacked-out headlamps give the ST trim an especially sporty appearance.
Designed to handle up to seven people, the 2021 Ford Explorer has no trouble satisfying most families. There’s an especially good amount of legroom in the Explorer’s first two rows. Its third-row seat is more suitable for children and small adults.
While the Explorer is a comfy family hauler, the 2021 Ford Expedition gives passengers even more space to unwind. When sitting in the Expedition’s third row, occupants will have an extra 8.7 inches of legroom. This means most adults will find the Expedition’s third row to be very accommodating. There’s also 2.5 inches more legroom in the Expedition’s second row.
To no surprise, the full-size Expedition also has a larger storage area. There’s 20.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the Expedition’s third row. However, folding the SUV’s third-row seat increases cargo space to an impressive 63.6 cubic feet. While the Explorer provides 18.2 of standard cargo space, lowering its third-row seat results in 47.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
In terms of outward visibility, the Explorer gets a mediocre rating. This SUV’s short side-window glass creates additional blind spots. While the Expedition’s windows are larger, drivers will still encounter a few blind spots when backing up. Both of these SUVs provide a good view of the road ahead.
Let’s first take a look at the 2021 Ford Explorer’s available powertrains. Ford’s popular 2.3L EcoBoost engine comes standard. This turbocharged four-cylinder engine kicks out 300 horsepower. Drivers who need more muscle can upgrade to a 3.0L EcoBoost V6 engine, which develops up to 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. Both of the Explorer’s available engines use a 10-speed automatic transmission.
When it equipped with its base powertrain, the Explorer clocks a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds. This is definitely quick enough to please most drivers. However, upgrading to the Explorer’s larger engine results in an even swifter 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds.
Every new 2021 Ford Expedition features a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine. The standard version is rated to produce a more than adequate 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. However, special engine calibrations enable the Expedition’s Platinum trim to produce 400 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. Like its smaller stablemate, the Expedition uses a 10-speed automatic transmission.
When tested on a closed road course, the Expedition recorded a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds. This is quite quick for an SUV that weighs more than 5,500 pounds. Even when carrying an extra load, the Expedition delivers a responsive performance.
The Explorer can be used to haul a load. It’s rated to tow up to 5,600 pounds. Body-on-frame construction enables the Expedition to tow even more weight. Its 9,300-pound maximum towing is among the highest in the segment.
As expected, the smaller Explorer delivers a more efficient performance. It’s rated by the federal government to return up to 21 mpg town/28 mpg freeway. Opting for the Explorer’s more potent engine lowers its fuel economy rating to 18 mpg town/24 mpg freeway. Both engines are designed to use regular unleaded gas.
Expedition owners can anticipate spending more money at the pump. This SUV is rated to deliver about 17 mpg town/23 mpg highway. Luckily, Ford tunes the Expedition to develop peak power on regular unleaded gas.
The Explorer is tough enough to handle weekend camping adventures. An optional AWD system and Ford’s Terrain Management system help ensure good traction on muddy trails. There’s also 8.2 inches of ground clearance underneath the Explorer, which will come in handy when traveling in the snow.
Adventure seekers who need a more capable off-road vehicle will prefer the Expedition. Not only does the truck-based Expedition have a more rugged frame, but it also offers a more aggressive 4WD system with low-range gearing. On the Expedition’s list of options is a FX4 Off-Road package. It equips the SUV with an off-road suspension, beefy skid plates, and an electronic limited-slip differential for enhanced traction. A heavy-duty radiator gives the Expedition more protection when encountering rough landscapes.
In regard to road handling, the Explorer outshines the Expedition. A lighter design and car-based platform help the Explorer to feel rather agile. Driving enthusiasts will especially love the performance-focused Explorer ST, which comes equipped with a sports-tuned suspension. While the Expedition performs well for a big SUV, there’s no overlooking its pickup truck-like driving dynamics.
Regardless of which one of these SUVs a person chooses, they can look forward to enjoying a comfy ride. With that said, most people agree that the Explorer offers the softest overall ride. The only exception is the sports-tuned Explore ST, which feels stiffer. Despite the Expedition being based on a pickup truck, its fully independent rear suspension helps improve ride quality. An optional adaptive suspension further improves the Expedition’s ride and stability.
The Ford Explorer is a remarkably quiet family vehicle. A dual-wall dashboard and thick acoustic glass help minimize any outside noise. Expect the Expedition’s interior noise levels to also be quite low. Active noise cancellation technology is found on both SUVs.
Comfort, Options, and Performance
Like the larger Expedition, the Explorer excels in the comfort category. A number of premium options are available. Among the highlights include massaging front seats, heated second-row seats, upgraded leather upholstery. Keep in mind that only the Explorer comes standard with tri-zone automatic climate control. On the other hand, power-deploying running boards exclusively available on the Expedition.
These SUVs are a close match in terms of in-vehicle technology. However, a larger 8.0-inch SYNC 3 touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration. Ford equips the base Expedition with a much smaller 4.2-inch infotainment screen, which does not provide smartphone connectivity. Buyers must move past to the Expedition's base trim level in order to get Ford’s modern Sync 3 interface.
Fortunately, a Wi-Fi hotspot is found on both SUVs. Similar options include a 12-speaker premium sound system, wireless smartphone charging, and navigation. In contrast to the Expedition, the Explorer offers a fully digital gauge cluster.
When it comes to overall value, the Ford Explorer outclasses the Ford Expedition. Prices for the Explorer start at around $32,675. By comparison, Ford lists the Expedition with a starting MSRP of nearly $50,000. Explorer buyers can save money without sacrificing any features.
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The 2021 Ford Explorer recorded some of the best crash scores in the midsize segment. It scored a flawless rating in all the NHTSA’s critical impact tests. Families will also appreciate the Explorer bring named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
Crash scores for the 2021 Ford Expedition are just as impressive. It also earned a five-star overall safety rating from the federal government. The IIHS has yet to evaluate the Expedition’s safety.
Every new Explorer comes loaded with confidence-inspiring safety features. Special seatbelts help prevent chest injuries. Several advanced driving aids are found on the new Explorer. Blind-spot warning, forward collision warning with auto emergency braking, lane keeping assist, driver drowsiness monitoring, and pedestrian detection all come standard.
Evasive Steering Assist is on the Explorer’s list of options, which further enhances the driver's ability to dodge fast-approaching obstacles. Drivers who frequent metropolitian areas will also want the Explorer’s automated parking system. Intelligent cruise control and a surround-view camera are available as well.
While the Expedition provides many of the same standard safety features, it goes without pedestrian detection and driver drowsiness monitoring. Evasive steering assist is also unavailable on the Expedition.
Drivers who plan to tow on a regular basis will benefit from the Expedition’s optional Trailer Backup Assist system. This feature makes the task of driving with a trailer much easier.
Which Model to Choose?
Both the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2021 Ford Expedition prove to be great options. However, there are many differences to consider when choosing between these SUVs. For many car shoppers, cost will be a key factor. The Explorer is significantly less expensive. When comparing these vehicles, most people agree that there’s no big difference in overall interior quality. Upper trim levels feel genuinely luxurious.
There are pros and cons to the Expedition’s larger size. While the Expedition clearly provides the most passenger and cargo space, it’s a more difficult vehicle to park in congested areas. This full-size SUV also takes up a lot of garage space.
On the road, the car-based Explorer offers the best handling. Sports-tuned shocks and a performance steering system give the fun-to-drive Explorer ST an especially athletic feel. While the Expedition feels quite poised for a truck-based SUV, drivers will feel its extra weight when taking curves at a relatively high speed. Don’t expect the Expedition to be as engaging to drive as the Explorer. However, car reviewers give the Expedition top marks for its pleasing ride quality.
The Ford Explorer will have no trouble handling muddy camping trails. It will also deliver an admirable performance in the snow. Nevertheless, adventure-seeking families will find the Ford Expedition to be the best choice. When encountering more challenging terrain, the Expedition’s available low-range 4X4 system and heavy-duty skid plates will prove to their value.
Drivers who need a capable workhorse should choose the Expedition. A heavy-duty frame enables this SUV to tow a seriously big load. However, most drivers will be perfectly happy with the Explorer’s towing abilities.
Unsurprisingly, the Expedition guzzles down more fuel. While the Expedition’s highway fuel economy isn’t bad, a low city gas mileage rating makes it less suitable for urban dwellers. Drivers who commute on a daily basis will favor the Explorer.
At the end of the day, the 2021 Ford Explorer is a more practical option. While the Explorer may lack a spacious third-row seat and can’t tow as much weight, it excels in most categories. On the other hand, some people will need the 2021 Ford Expedition’s truck-like capabilities and extra interior space.
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