Everyone wants to feel adventurous. Just as you’d buy a Patagonia or North Face jacket for the vibe without any plans to go mountaineering, there’s no shame in adding a little off-road flair to your three-row family crossover. That’s where the Ford Explorer Timberline steps in.
The trim doesn't upfit the Explorer into a full-on Bronco. But the package looks cool and adds some off-road capability — even if it's capability the typical Explorer owner will never use.
Ford loaned me an Explorer Timberline for a few days to drive out to an F-150 Raptor R event. I didn’t get to push the enhanced off-road capability. But I did put a few hundred highway miles on one, took a trek over some pockmarked suburban Michigan pavement and performed a few preschool runs — an approximation of the average Explorer experience.
The Explorer Timberline trim adds more than just appearance. It’s the only Explorer with functional skid plates and tow hooks. You get an upgraded off-road suspension with components from the Police Interceptor Explorer. The Explorer Timberline features a proper limited-slip differential and all-terrain tires. The Explorer’s optional Hill Descent Control comes standard. The package gives the Explorer an 0.8-inch lift to 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the same as a non-Wilderness Subaru Outback.
The Timberline package enhanced capability, but perhaps not enough to move the needle for the Explorer toward recreational off-roader.
Ford can only put so much into a middle-tier Explorer. The off-road goodies exhaust the Timberline's budget.
The only engine offered is the base turbo 2.3-liter inline-four — there's no 400-hp twin-turbo V6, sadly. The four is fine — it delivers adequate power — but it can sound labored and agricultural while doing so. The all-terrain tires get seriously noisy on long highway drives (noticeable even after a morning driving the deafening F-150 Raptor R). And the entire package reduces fuel economy. The EPA rates the standard four-pot Explorer for 28 mpg highway; the Timberline is only rated for 22 mpg highway. (I earned 23.6 mpg, to be fair.)
That unique Timberline styling can’t stop the interior from feeling a bit bargain-bin, as well. You do get a leather heated steering wheel, but beyond that, the touchscreen is small. The front seats are neither leather, heated, nor supportive. The whole experience feels cheap and plasticky, rather than premium.
My tester was a basic Explorer Timberline that started at $46,245 and came to $47,540 with destination and delivery — about $10,000 more than a base Explorer. Ford bumped the base MSRP to $48,480 for 2023.
That’s about on par with competitors’ burly off-road trims. Honda just announced pricing for the new Passport Trailsport, which starts at $48,350. Kia’s SX X-Pro version of the Telluride begins at $49,885.
The Explorer Timberline is the coolest-looking version (and won't have anyone mistaking you for an undercover cop). But looks aren’t everything.
The off-road tech is nice, but obtaining it means giving up luxury, convenience and performance features that an Explorer owner would actually use. If you’re willing to go to around $50,000 for an Explorer, you might as well make the extra splurge for the ST, Platinum or King Ranch trim.
Powertrain: 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four; 10-speed automatic; 4x4
Torque: 310 lb-ft
Towing Capacity: 5,300 lbs
EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
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