2022 Ford Explorer Timberline Review Update

Jack R. Nerad, Independent Expert | Apr 19, 2022

Introduction - Find the best Ford deals!

The Ford Explorer is one of the models that led the SUV explosion that began in the 1980s and continues to this day. The formula has always been simple—a midsize 3-row SUV suitable for families. While buyers can equip the Explorer with all-wheel drive (AWD) (and a great many have), Ford has rarely stressed the SUV's off-road abilities…until now. The unveiling of the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline has given the model line a dedicated vehicle to compete with the likes of the Honda Passport TrailSportJeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, and the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro. This review concentrates on the Ford Explorer Timberline while looking at other Explorer trim levels as well.

The most substantive change to the Ford Explorer lineup in the past two years is the addition of the Timberline. Beyond that, the changes to the Explorer have been minimal. The 2021 and 2022 model-year Explorers are virtually identical mechanically and in most features. The Ford Explorer Timberline is the most off-road-capable version in the Explorer's long history. Its feature set includes:

  • Increased ground clearance
  • Improved approach and departure angles
  • Torsen limited-slip differential
  • New shocks, springs, and stabilizer bars
  • Steel skid plates
  • All-terrain tires
  • Revised front and rear styling

For 2022, the Ford Explorer is available in eight trim levels: Base, XLT, ST-Line, Timberline, Limited, ST, King Ranch, and Platinum. A hybrid version is available in Limited and Platinum trims. All offer three rows of seating with a carrying capacity for six or seven. Most trims are available in rear-drive and AWD configurations. The Timberline and Platinum Hybrid are the exceptions, available in AWD only. Pricing for the Base Explorer starts at about $33,000, and the most expensive King Ranch trim level starts at about $54,000.

For the last decade, the Ford Explorer has essentially become a tall station wagon, even though it has real off-road capabilities under its skin. Ford added the Timberline version to unlock and enhance that off-road potential, shining a new light on the entire lineup.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2020 Ford Explorer. This review focuses on the Explorer's updates for 2022 and how they potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Ford Explorer - Find the best Ford deals!

2022 Ford Explorer Timberline Forged Green Front Quarter View

Photo: Jack R. Nerad

The Ford Explorer competes in the Upper Midsize SUV market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 61 percent of new Ford Explorer buyers are male (vs. 55 percent for the segment), and the median age of a new Explorer buyer is 56 years (vs. 55).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the Explorer in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Powertrain
  • Setting up and starting
  • Driving comfort
  • Infotainment system
  • Getting in and out
  • Fuel economy

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Explorer ranks sixth out of 13 Upper Midsize SUV models.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Ford Explorer - Find the best Ford deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert analyzes an Explorer Timberline equipped with the following options:

  • 18-inch black alloy wheels and P265/65R18 all-terrain tires
  • Cargo area management system
  • Twin-panel moonroof

The price of the test vehicle came to $49,120, including the $1,245 destination charge.

Off-Road Appearance and Interior Changes

2022 Ford Explorer Timberline Interior Dashboard

Photo: Jack R. Nerad

One might underestimate the off-road abilities of the current generation of the Ford Explorer because the vehicle looks like a garden-variety suburban kid shuttle. Ford addressed that in the Timberline edition in a big way, giving the new sub-model a personality all its own.

The Timberline does away with most of the chrome bling that adorns other Explorers. It has its own "Carbonized Gray" grille that accompanies the now-popular "blackout" treatment around the headlights and taillights. Wrapped around black-painted aluminum wheels etched with the Timberline logo are high-profile, heavily treaded all-terrain tires. Timberline badges reside on the C-pillars and the liftgate. Even the Ford oval is black.

To emphasize the all-terrain nature of the Explorer Timberline, the model is only available in a handful of neutral colors, including the exclusive Forged Green. Ford complements the exterior with red-painted front tow hooks. Ford rates the tow hooks at 150 percent of the gross vehicle weight. LED fog lamps are standard on the Timberline, and the SUV is pre-wired to accept auxiliary lighting.

The interior of the Timberline has a similar woodsy theme. Green and black dominate the interior. Items like the overhead console, grab handles, visors, and moonroof shade are ebony, while unique trim adorns the center stack steering wheel and armrests. The seats, steering wheel, and door trim have tangerine-colored stitching.

Ford covers the seats in cloth and ActiveX synthetic leather, with an eye on making them easy to clean. The front seats are heated, and so is the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Rubber floor liners are standard in another attempt to make the Timberline simple to spruce up after a day on the trail.

Off-Road Drivetrain

The current generation has always offered good all-terrain abilities when fitted with the AWD system. Even the hybrid has good off-road chops. But with the Timberline, Ford ups the off-pavement ante by making some simple but useful changes.

The most basic of these is making AWD standard on the Timberline model. The system automatically apportions torque between the front and rear axles, preemptively heading off wheelspin before it occurs.

A Torsen limited-slip differential aids the AWD system in the Timberline. The Torsen differential sends torque to the wheels with the best traction and, importantly, prevents the other wheel from spinning if it lacks grip. This is important in maintaining forward momentum in challenging, low-traction situations.

The single engine available in the Ford Explorer Timberline is a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder that delivers 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of peak torque. Ford pairs it with a 10-speed automatic transmission designed to offer good fuel economy. The EPA rating for the 2022 Explorer Timberline is 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway/21 mpg combined. The standard Class III trailer tow package gives the Timberline a 5,300-pound towing capacity.

Suspension, Tire, and Steering Changes

2022 Ford Explorer Timberline Forged Green Front End, Grille, Wheel, Red Tow Hooks

Photo: Jack R. Nerad

Ford engineers improved the Explorer Timberline's overall all-terrain capabilities by increasing the vehicle's ride height and making suspension and steering changes. The Explorer Timberline's ride height is raised 0.8 inches. The substitution of off-road-oriented heavy-duty shock absorbers is partially responsible for the difference.

Equally important is the substitution of high-sidewall P265/65R18 all-terrain tires on 18-inch black alloy wheels. The Bridgestone Dueler tires have an aggressive off-road-oriented tread pattern while at the same time providing a reasonably quiet on-road ride.

Ford also retuned the steering, springs, and stabilizer bars with serious off-road usage in mind. Ford also fitted the Explorer Timberline with an exclusive front rebound spring designed to quell sudden jarring that can come when negotiating uneven terrain filled with potholes. The Timberline's minimum ground clearance is a reasonably robust 8.7 inches, up from 7.9 inches for the base Explorer.

To further guard against potholes and other obstacles, the Explorer Timberline has standard steel skid plates. The plates extend across the bulk of the underbody, protecting vitals like engine and transmission from boulders and debris.

The Timberline boasts a standard 360-degree camera that is useful when parking, plus a standard front-facing camera that is especially useful off-road when coming to the edge of a cliff, for example.

Standard Off-Road Driver-Aids

Ford makes its Terrain Management System (TMS) standard in the Explorer Timberline and gives the model other valuable off-road-oriented driver aids. The Timberline's TMS has seven driver-selectable modes: Normal, Trail, Deep Snow/Sand, Slippery, Sport, Tow/Haul, and Eco. Drivers can dial up each mode using a circular selector housed on the center console. On Explorers equipped with the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 3-D animated graphics illustrate the mode selected.

Each mode calibrates various driveline systems to optimize performance in a given off-road or on-road condition. Among the parameters adjusted are throttle, transmission shift points, and electronic stability control.

Another useful off-road feature that is standard on the Explorer Timberline is hill-descent control. Acting much like cruise control for the trail, this system enables the driver to set a desired speed between two and 12 miles per hour. The Explorer Timberline will then maintain that speed without requiring the driver to use the brakes or throttle. This allows the driver to focus on steering the vehicle in what could be very challenging conditions on narrow descents amid boulders and trees.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Ford deals!

2022 Ford Explorer Timberline Forged Green Rear Quarter View

Photo: Jack R. Nerad

From both an appearance and a functional point of view, the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline isn't everyone's cup of cappuccino. And that is precisely the idea. The Ford Explorer lineup offers plenty of choices for suburban moms and dads who seek an attractive, practical school-drop-off vehicle. Any one of them will do an excellent job of hauling home improvement supplies from the building center and toting pallet-sized loads of paper towels from the big box store. Though the Explorer Timberline will do all this stuff equally well, its styling and mechanicals take the vehicle in a different direction.

The good news for those who like the Timberline's looks but are wary of its off-road equipment is that it maintains a very pleasant around-town demeanor. The 300-hp, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine provides plenty of zip, and the 10-speed automatic transmission is a willing assistant. The AWD system requires no driver attention whatsoever. Ride quality is a trifle stiffer than the standard-issue Explorer, but it is still comfortable.

At the same time, the Timberline has the right stuff to take families as large as seven deep into the Outback or the Outback equivalent in their area. The SUV offers a multi-mode all-terrain system, skid plates, and revised approach and departure angles, all designed with off-road prowess in mind.

Dyed-in-the-wool off-roaders might crave a super-low crawl gear, a 2-speed transfer case, and more ground clearance. But there is little doubt the Explorer Timberline can do a very creditable job of providing excellent family transportation day-to-day and good capabilities off-road on weekends and vacations. Not only that, but many SUV buyers will no doubt gravitate toward its earthy no-nonsense looks.

From a safety point of view, the Explorer Timberline offers both standard Co-Pilot360 and Co-Pilot360 Assist+ advanced driving assistance systems. Among the particularly useful features are lane-centering assistance and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability. Traffic sign recognition probably won't be very useful off-road, but it is another nice-to-have feature.

In all, the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline is a welcome addition to a lineup that had possibly become too standardized and conventional. The lure of off-road adventure has a romantic aura, even if one only uses the vehicle with that aura for picking up milk and eggs at the grocery store.

Jack R. Nerad has been reviewing cars, trucks, vans, and sport utilities for more than three decades. He managed the editorial efforts of Motor Trend magazine and Kelley Blue Book and currently is the host of the SportsMap Radio Network program America on the Road, which is available on Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, Stitcher, and other outlets.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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