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2021 Ford Explorer Trim Levels with Comparisons & Configurations.

2021 Ford Explorer Trim Levels, Configurations & Comparisons: Base vs XLT vs Limited, ST & Platinum
Reviewed & fact checked by
James Murdoch

What 2021 Ford Explorer Trim Level Should you Buy? What is the Difference Between Trims?

For families who need the extra interior and cargo space, but are not interested in a mini van, a mid-size SUV is the perfect choice. They are also ideal for those who may not have a large family, but are looking for versatility and something more imposing than a sedan. As their popularity has continuously increased since the 1990s, most brands offer a vehicle in this class. Deciding which mid-size SUV to choose could be a daunting task, but if you are in the market for one, the 2021 Ford Explorer should be at the top of your list.

The 2021 Ford Explorer has many great features. This three-row SUV that seats up to 7 passengers offers a ride that is smooth and controlled, and the impressive engine provides fast acceleration. The cargo area is both functional and ample, and the interior provides enough space to accommodate the passengers and activities that are part of your daily routine. It maintains its recognizable Explorer appearance, but with sleek and sophisticated updates. With the right equipment, it has towing capacity of up to 5,600 pounds. If you are taking a serious look at the 2021 Explorer, your timing is perfect because this model adds a few more improvements to last year's full redesign.

The 2021 Ford Explorer comes in 5 different trim levels starting with the base Explorer model, and going all the way up to the Platinum level. For 2021, some notable upgrades now come standard on the top 4 trim levels, and there are also some impressive new package options to choose from.

Compare the 2021 Ford Explorer Base vs XLT Trims. What is the difference?

With the base model Explorer, some impressive features come standard. It comes equipped with a 2.3L EcoBoost engine, rear-wheel drive, and a 10-speed automatic transmission. Sirius XM Satellite Radio is also standard, along with Ford's Co-Pilot360™ Technology. This feature includes a lane keeping system, a rear view camera with washer, and AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control™.

The standard list goes on to include 18-inch painted aluminum wheels, automatic LED low beam headlamps, privacy glass, and a power lift gate. All trim levels come with the SOS Post-Crash Alert System™, which activates the horn and flashers if the air bag is deployed. A forward-collision warning system, automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and a rear-cross-traffic alert system are come standard across all trim levels as well.

Some Advanced Tech components are the Trailer Sway Control, and the FordPass Connect™ 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. There is also the Battery Saver, which activates to turn off interior lights or flashers within 10 minutes of them being left on.

For a very modest increase in base price, the next trim level XLT builds upon the impressive features of the base level Explorer. The standard upgrades include first row heated seats, second-row bucket seats, a second-row console, and power side-view mirrors with heated glass. Although not standard, an available option with the Co-Pilot360™ Technology in the XLT is the SYNC with voice-activated touchscreen navigation system.

While the base Explorer gets an EPA estimated 27 MPG in the city and 29 MPG on the highway, the EPA estimates for the XLT are 21 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highway. The XLT comes standard with 18-inch five-spoke Sparkle Silver-painted aluminum wheels. New for this model year, however, a Sports Appearance Package is now available to add on to the XLT, and it includes upgraded 20-inch aluminum wheels coated in Carbonized Gray paint.

The XLT adds roof rack side rails to the exterior, along with more available color options. There are also two tire options that are not offered with the base model, as well as a special Sport Appearance Package available as an add-on. The Advanced Technology components are expanded in the XLT to include a perimeter alarm and the SecuriCode™ Keyless Entry Keypad.

If you compare the standard features of the base level Explorer to those of the XLT, you will not find any drastic differences. The additional amenities and technology available in the XLT, however, makes it a solid choice, considering that the cost is not significantly higher.

Compare the 2021 Explorer XLT vs Limited Trims. What is the difference?

While the XLT builds upon the impressive standard features of the base model, the Limited trim level goes even further to enhance the 2021 Explorer. The Limited gives customers an additional engine choice, with the 3.3L hybrid engine being an available option. Other standard upgrades include a B&O sound system by Bang & Olufsen with 12 speakers, and second row captain's chairs with power-assist fold and E-Z entry.

Whereas the SYNC with voice-activated touchscreen navigation system and the reverse sensing system were possible add-ons in the XLT, they comes standard in the Limited. The Limited also comes with rain sensing wipers, an upgraded grille, a universal garage door opener, and a wireless charging pad. The Co-Pilot360™ Technology is further enhanced with the addition of a forward sensing system, and a remote starter is also standard.

For those looking for a hybrid option, a 3.3L hybrid engine is an available option with the Limited. It is the only hybrid in its class that has towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds. There is also a wheel upgrade with the Limited, which comes standard with 20-inch premium painted aluminum wheels. Both trim levels have EPA estimates of 21 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highway, but if you opt for the hybrid option available with the Limited, the estimates improve to 27 MPG in the city and 29 MPG on the highway.

Deciding between the XLT and the Limited comes down to determining if you are willing to pay a significantly higher price for the upgraded amenities detailed in this section. The XLT still appears to be a solid choice, but if you are not cost-conscious, the Limited definitely adds more comfort and convenience to your Explorer. If you are intent on driving a hybrid vehicle, the Limited is your only choice.

Compare the 2021 Explorer Limited vs ST Trim. What is the difference?

The 400-hp twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine that the ST is equipped with moves this trim level into the high performance category. Those who tend to be heavy on the gas pedal will appreciate this engine upgrade, as well as the special sport-tuned independent front and rear suspension.

EPA gas mileage estimates for the ST are less than those for the Limited, at 18 MPG in the city and 24 MPG on the highway. Both trim levels come standard with 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, although 21-inch aluminum wheels are an available option with the ST.

The PowerFold third-row was an available add-on with the Limited trim level, but with the ST, it is standard. This is a major convenience feature, especially if your third row will be in constant use. There are also special ST interior details like City Silver accent stitching throughout the cabin. The ST adds yet another standard component to the Co-Pilot360™ Technology with Park Assist 2.0, and the sideview mirrors also get a major upgrade with their power folding and memory features.

The ST also introduces drivers to the Premium Technology Package as an available add-on. It includes multi-contour front row seats with Active Motion, a 10.1-inch LCD portrait touchscreen with swipe and pinch-to-zoom functions, and an upgraded B&O sound system by Bang and Olufsen with 14 speakers. Hill descent control and a terrain management system, both optional add-ons in the Limited, come standard in the ST. The same is true with the hands-free, foot-activated lift gate. Even more exciting is that Intelligent 4WD is also a standard feature in the ST.

The enhanced performance and sport features make the ST stand apart from the Limited. If you are looking for your Explorer to have this type of capacity, then the ST is the clear choice in this comparison. If this type of performance is not that important to you, and you are looking for convenience and cutting-edge technology, then the Limited is an excellent choice (especially if you want the hybrid engine).

Compare the 2021 Explorer ST vs Platinum Trim Level. What is the difference?

There is a modest increase in base price between the ST and the Platinum, which is something to consider when reviewing the differences between the two. The EPA estimated fuel economy is the same for both, at 18 MPG City/24 MPG Highway. The Platinum does not offer the special ST interior, or its unique sport-tuned independent front and rear suspension. It also comes with a slightly downgraded 365-hp twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine. The Platinum comes standard with upgraded 21-inch bright machined-face aluminum wheels with Luster Nickel painted pockets.

In terms of additional standard upgrades that come with the Limited, security approach lamps are added to the power-folding sideview mirrors, and the seating is covered in Tri-Diamond perforated leather.

The ST still wins out in this comparison. The additional upgrades in the Platinum trim level are not significant enough to warrant the higher payment, and the performance and power features give the ST considerably more value.

Which Trim to Choose?

After considering all that each trim level has to offer, the 2021 Explorer Limited emerges as the best choice. While the ST offers some pretty impressive performance components, and is the most athletic of the trim levels, the upgraded features that come with the Limited are the most appealing for the average driver. If you are looking to purchase the 2021 Ford Explorer as a family or daily functional vehicle, you may be more interested in the updated tech and convenience amenities than the increased performance. The standard engine that comes with the Limited is still powerful in its own right, and it is also more efficient on the highway. It is the only trim level that offers a hybrid option, which many drivers are specifically looking for. In terms of pricing, the standard Limited sits right in the middle of the five trim levels, making it the best value for all that it offers.

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Compare the 2020 Ford Explorer Trim Levels