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[January 14, 2013]


Jan 15, 2013 (The Manila Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- GOD bless parking assist. In Metro Manila where parking spots are tight, poorly lit and marked, and usually come with pesky beggars, this gizmo is as useful to driving as a spoon and a fork are to eating. Yes, you can do without them, but chances are you'll make a mess, too.

Parking assist is among the new stuff that the latest Ford Explorer Limited 3.5L packs (price: P2.595 million). But when we say "parking assist" here we're not talking of clanging bells or beeping tones when you slot the gearshift in reverse; we're talking electronic wizardry that isn't far removed from tech found on gazillion-dollar military drones. Parking assist, in the Explorer's case, means getting your personal valet, and in a car of such girth, flash and posh, it simply is useful. You would not want to ding this car.

What the top-spec Explorer's parking assist does, should it be activated, is search for a parallel-parking spot on the car's right-hand side, measures if the car can fit in the spot, tells the driver it has found one, then steers the car into the slot. All the driver needs to do is shift to reverse and step on the brake accordingly. A one-way street where there could be parking on the left-hand side too Then signal left and the parking assist system will look on that side. It's simple to use, and the driver is kept informed of the proceedings by way of chimes, tones, a rear-view camera and some graphics. Making a mess isn't part of the deal.

Besides a computerized valet, among the stuff new to the latest Explorer is an upgraded version of Ford's Sync, which tidily mixes entertainment and communication functions in an easily decipherable package whose functions can be activated by voice recognition. The thing has Bluetooth, text-message readouts, iPod selection and phone directory search capabilities, among a million other things it can do. Also, Ford thought it would be neat if it threw in a choice of lighting colors to match the Explorer's cabin gizmos.

Then there are the lane keeping technology that uses radars and sensors that alerts wayward drivers and could even nudge the steering wheel back into line; blind spot information system that warns of other cars around the Explorer that are hidden from the driver's view; adaptive cruise control that guards against tailgating; and collision mitigation, which is some sort of clairvoyant that could foretell a crash and brakes harder than the driver. As those into cars would note, Ford's previous ownership of Volvo bore fruit. The latest Explorer has even gotten inflatable seatbelts for the second-row seats, and its wipers switch themselves on when it starts drizzling.

A colleague told me that the older Explorer's electrically operated third-row seats couldn't be stopped from folding themselves once activated--a potential safety concern. Admittedly, I failed to test that during my review period for the older Explorer, and so I made it a point to find out if that is the case with the upgraded model. And, yes, the seats would stop folding themselves if you prevent them, so there should be no safety concern anymore (if there really was one in the first place).

Another area that isn't a source of concern is power; a 3.5-liter V6 that has trick valve and camshaft timing makes 290 horsepower and 346 Newton-meter hauls the Explorer (a 2.0-liter-powered variant is also sold). While peak horsepower is available only at crazy 6,500-revs--not an ideal goal to shoot for--the engine's grunt comes in at 4,000rpm, so around town the Explorer is more than capable of humiliating other SUVs or even sports-car poseurs, regardless of whether the vehicle is laden with passengers and cargo. On the highway, the Explorer's six-speed automatic transmission makes for relaxed triple-digit cruising.

Because the latest-generation Explorer has eschewed the archaic body-on-frame construction (which all previous-generation Explorers had sat on) in favor of a monocoque, the present model rides more comfortably and with more poise--in stark contrast to the bucking, wallowing way that old models did. The latest Explorer has found a happy spot between comfort and control even if its suspension bits are only common MacPhersons and multilinks, and rolls on massive 20-inch alloys wrapped in sport-biased 255/50 tires to boot. Steering, despite the large footwear, is on the vague side though, and most likely this has to do with the vehicle's electric power assist--a system I have yet to warm up to.

Despite its new cushy leanings, it's reassuring to note that the Explorer remains a true SUV. In top-model spec, the vehicle comes with all-wheel drive that has been lavished with traction control, hill descent (which lets the Explorer crawl down loose-surface slopes) and terrain management, a system that lets the driver to electronically choose the vehicle's traction setting for specific types of terrain. In this regard, it's Ford's previous ownership of Land Rover that takes the credit.

Truly, the Explorer is all the sport-ute you will need.

___ (c)2013 The Manila Times (Manila, Philippines) Visit The Manila Times (Manila, Philippines) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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