FORD has been slower than many rivals to get plugged into the electric revolution, with the Mustang Mach-E going it alone while a bunch of competitors have swept into the company's family car heartland as it gets its act together, writes William Scholes.
That should start to change later this year when order books open for the Explorer, an American-styled but European engineered and built SUV crossover which Ford hopes will give Kia, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Skoda and the rest of them a hard time.
In an echo of the Mustang nameplate on the Mach-E, the Explorer badge is traditionally associated with a mainly US market Ford vehicle, a large 4x4 truck. This effort to evoke Americana is very deliberate - as the company puts it, the Explorer is the first of a new wave of EVs that will be "steeped in Ford's American roots" while also being "designed for Europe".
The aesthetic arguably helps distance the Explorer from the fact that it is built on the same platform as one of its key rivals, the VW ID4. This pragmatic approach reflects the cost of developing bespoke EV architecture - in this case, VW is able to recoup some of its investment and Ford is able to get a European-focused platform off-the-shelf from a proven manufacturer. Cynics might add that in the EV age, one electric motor and battery set-up can feel much the same as the next...
That being said, the Explorer and the ID4 look completely different, giving some credence to Ford's claim that their new EV "combines German engineering with striking American style".
They should drive differently too, if only subtly, with Ford tuning the suspension to its preferences, for example.
The car is being built in Cologne, taking up factory space freed up by killing off the Fiesta. That gives another hint at Ford's change of direction. Smaller hatchbacks like the Fiesta and the also soon-to-die Focus are, for now at least, no longer part of Ford's future. Larger - and more profitable - cars are where Ford is aiming. It wants to have an all-electric line-up by 2030, and is prepared to ditch long-standing favourites like the Fiesta and Focus to make that a reality.
The Explorer is a five-seater and "is fully equipped to set families on the road to adventure", says Ford, which talks up its practicality.
The boot volume is a decent 450 litres - the ID4 is larger, but has a longer rear overhang - and there's a 17-litre console between the front seats which can hold a 15-inch laptop. Drop the back seats and the volume swells to 1,400 litres. There's a 'private locker' for valuables behind the large 14.6-inch touchscreen. It's interesting in itself - it slides up and down to suit the driver and what function is displayed on the screen at a given time.
Ford describes the interior as ultra-modern and says it is built from "premium materials" - not necessarily something one would readily associate with Ford products over the years. There is also a "sophisticated soundbar more typical of revolutionary concept cars than family vehicles".
There are two trim levels at launch, Select and Premium. It is a well kitted out car, with heated front seats and steering wheel, a massaging driver’s seat and climate control that allows driver and front passenger to choose their own temperature as standard. Keyless entry and a hands-free power tailgate that can be opened by 'kicking' beneath the rear bumper are also included.
Driver aids include an 'assisted lane change' set-up that allows the car to change lanes itself at the push of the indicator stalk. There's also a system to give passengers warnings of approaching cyclists before opening doors.
Courtesy of its VW tech, the Explorer will be offered in 168bhp rear-wheel-drive guise with a 55kWh (52kWh usable) battery for a predicted 'computer engineering simulation' range of up to 218 miles. It can charge at up to 130kW and is rear-wheel-drive.
There is also a more powerful 282bhp single-motor car, utilising a larger 82kWh (77kWh usable) battery. This will be the longest-legged car, with a range of up to 335 miles. It also has charges at up to 170kW.
At the top of the line-up is a dual-motor four-wheel-drive Explorer, with the larger battery and a total of 335bhp.This version's range is quoted as 305 miles.
All Explorers are able to charge from 10-80 per cent in 25 minutes - if you can find a fast enough charger, that is…
"Explorer is a trailblazer for a new breed of exciting Ford electric vehicles. Steeped in our American roots but built in Cologne for our customers in Europe, it is road trip-ready for the big adventures and fully loaded with everything our customers will need for their daily drives," said Ford's Martin Sander.
Expect prices to start at around £40,000.