Ford says our long collective house arrest has us itching to hit the trails, accelerating a trend that has seen Explorer owners reporting a 56 percent increase in off-road use over the last three years. To ensure these increasingly outdoorsy family SUV customers don’t defect to the forthcoming three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee L, the company is rolling out the 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline, which it claims will be “the most off-road-capable Explorer ever.”
What Off-Road Gear Does the 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline Get?
Ford has given the Explorer a total off-road-readiness overhaul in creating the Timberline. Starting from the bottom up, there’s a rugged set of 265/65R-18 Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tires, with an aggressive yet allegedly quiet tread pattern. Those tires alone provide a quarter-inch of additional ground clearance, to which a mild suspension lift increases the total to 0.8 inch. That raises the Explorer’s minimum running ground clearance from 7.9 to 8.7 inches. Revised bumper fascias further improve the approach and departure angles to 23.5 and 23.7 degrees respectively, up from 20.1/22.0. In case that’s still not quite enough clearance, an extensive set of steel skid plates protects the chin, powertrain, and other vulnerable underbody bits.
In addition to the lift, there are revisions to the power steering calibration; new anti-roll bar and spring rates; and heavy-duty shocks from Police interceptor are modified for off-road use and subbed in for the stock pieces, with the fronts incorporating rebound springs to smooth things out when traversing the wildest whoop-dee-dos.
A Torsen rear differential helps ensure the rear tire with the best grip gets the most torque—helpful when scrambling up steep, slippery trails—and there’s a terrain management system with seven modes including Trail and Deep Snow/Sand, and hill descent control comes standard. And if all that lets you down and your Timberline requires a tow-strap extraction, a set of Red Ember tow hooks in front are rated at 150 percent of the truck’s gross vehicle weight.
About That “Most-Capable” Claim …
So, can this new Explorer Timberline, without a low-range transfer case, really be more capable than the fourth-gen, body-on-frame Explorer sold between 2006-2010 that offered a proper low range and more rugged four-wheel drive? The Timberline bests its body-on-frame forebear by 0.4 inch in ground clearance but trails it in approach and departure angles (28.2 and 23.8 degrees for the 2010). And while the old truck’s five-speed automatic ends up with the same number of overall gear ratios, its best low-range first-gear crawl ratio of 29.8:1 is nearly double the 2021 model’s 16.9:1 first-gear. And while the Timberline’s 2.3-liter “EcoBoost” four-cylinder generates 8 more horsepower than the fourth-gen model’s V-8 (really), it falls 5 lb-ft shy on torque. For that reason, we can’t imagine it being able to match the old-timer for climbing steep rocks at a slow, deliberate pace. Or maybe that Torsen diff and brainy terrain management system can work miracles. We’ll see.
In the contemporary three-row off-roading space, we anticipate the forthcoming Trail Rated Jeep Grand Cherokee L with its available Quadra-Drive II two-speed active transfer case and electronic limited-slip rear differential will be the more capable climber—especially with the optional Hemi and adjustable air suspension.
How Will the Timberline Perform?
Those skid plates, the differential, and all-terrain tires all add some weight, while the larger tires impart two-percent taller gearing—all of which will likely combine to blunt acceleration considerably relative to the only Explorer XLT four-cylinder we’ve tested, which was rear-wheel-drive. Figure the low- to mid-seven-second range to 60 mph.
It’s also worth noting that its EPA ratings of 19/23/21 mpg rank it closer to the twin-turbo six (18/24/20) than to the basic 2.3-liter (20/27/23), all with AWD. The plunge in highway economy suggests those fatter tires, higher ride height, and probably less slick fascia and grille do not make the wind happy. It’s worth noting that the Jeep Grand Cherokee L V-6 is rated 18/25/21 mpg with 4WD.
What Else Differentiates the Explorer Timberline?
Well, there’s a new Forged Green Metallic exterior color, blackout treatments surrounding the headlamps and taillamps, the revised fascias with an orange accent stripe in front, a “carbonized gray” grille that’s pre-wired to accept dealer-installed auxiliary LED lighting capable of throwing 169,000 candelas down the trail ($499) while giving the Explorer the appearance of a Police Interceptor model. Rounding out the look is a set of new gloss black-painted 18-inch wheels with a Timberline logo laser-etched on them, plus Timberline logos and black Ford oval badges.
Inside are easy-cleaning ActiveX vinyl and cloth seats in a Timberline-only Deep Cypress (green) color with Deep Tangerine accent stitching. Everything above the window line is Ebony black, there’s Stone Mesh look trim on the instrument panel with satin silver accents elsewhere. Heated front seats and a heated steering wheel come standard, along with Ford’s full Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ suite of safety and driver-assist systems, including adaptive cruise with stop-and-go and speed-sign recognition, plus lane centering and more.
2021 Ford Explorer Timberline Price and Release Date
Orders are being taken now, and the Explorer Timberline goes for $47,010 before options. That’s $3,800 more than a similarly equipped XLT, but $1,945 less than a similarly equipped Explorer Limited with the same turbocharged 2.3-liter engine. Deliveries of the 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline will begin this summer, and we’re told to expect that Timberline nomenclature to propagate throughout Ford’s SUV line, the way Tremor has in the pickup truck line.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2021 Ford Explorer 4WD Timberline|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.3L/300-hp/310-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,650 lb (est)|
|L x W x H||198.8 x 78.9 x 70.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.2 sec (est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||19/23/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||177/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.94 lb/mile|
|ON SALE||Summer 2021|