One Rung Up The Ladder: The 2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD


2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD front 3/4 view

Hot on the heels of my review of the 2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Sport, here's another SUV that's one trim level above base---the 2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD.


As I've mentioned before, vehicles in manufacturer press fleets tend to be top-of-the-line models. That's fine and understandable---they want to show off the best they have and the cutting-edge options that, as time goes by, will become features found in most of their vehicles.


But that's not what a lot of people buy or can afford. Base models tend to go to commercial, business or rental fleets. But the one-step-up models are a sweet spot for a lot of buyers, offering a decent amount of creature comforts and features for a price considerably below the loaded top-of-the-line trim levels.


And that brings us to the 2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD. $2,500 more than a base Explorer, but a whopping $18,370 less than the all-in Platinum model.


2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD hood up

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD engine

Under the hood of the 2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD is the 2.3-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder. It's the base engine in the Explorer lineup.


But this will make you reconsider your ideas about "base engines". With 300 horsepower, it's capable of 0-60 runs in 6.2 seconds. But, connected to a ten-speed automatic transmission, it lives up to the "Eco" part of "Ecoboost", with an EPA-estimated 20 miles per gallon city, 27 highway.


Ride and handling are impressive for a vehicle of this size, weight and mission in life. There's no sense that this is a lesser version of an Explorer.


2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD rear liftgate open

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD interior

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD interior

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD rear seats

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD front seats

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD instrument panel

The base price of the 2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD is $37.075. Nothing you see in the interior trim is an extra-cost option. This level of detail is what comes with the XLT.


The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are three-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and a six-speaker audio system. Ten years ago, this would have been one model down from the top, not one up from the bottom.


2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD steering wheel and gauge cluster

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD center stack

Our test vehicle did have extra cost options---$3,540 for Equipment Group 202A (remote start, heated steering wheel and an eight-way power front passenger seat), $1,795 for the XLT Sport Appearance Package (an upgrade to 20-inch carbon grey ten-spoke wheels), $895 for Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ (adaptive cruise control, evasive steering assist and voice-activated touchscreen navigation), $395 for the Infinite Blue Metallic paint, $195 for self-sealing tires and $165 for a cargo management system.


With $1,245 destination and delivery, the as-tested price of the 2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD is $45,305.


2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD side view

2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD rear view

That's an attractive price point, right about the average new car transaction price. And the 2021 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD, optioned like our tester, does a convincing job of looking and driving way above average.



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