My gut told me I should avoid the goopy, muddy tracks. I’d spent an hour exploring a fairly easy off-road trail with the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline, a route that took me up a lousy fire road to a clearing that was just muddy and uneven enough to see how the Explorer Timberline would handle what “most buyers” would do with it. It had all been fine. My friend Tyler was behind me in his Toyota 4Runner, though neither of us had thought to bring a tow rope.
Always go with your gut, right?
Ignoring my “maybe don’t” thought, I turned the nose of the Explorer toward the tracks and slowly crawled toward them. Its Bridgestone all-terrain tires were no match for the gloppy stuff underneath, and my steering input was futile as the front of the car continued straight ahead as I slowly got stuck. Any attempt to move forward was only going to make things worse. Trees – small ones, but enough to put dents in Ford’s nice new car – loomed nearby. I gingerly put the Explorer Timberline in Reverse and feathered the throttle.
At first, nothing. The tires struggled, the all-wheel drive software frantically hunted for a line of code that told it how to handle this moment. I gave the skinny pedal one more prod and felt the Timberline’s limited-slip differential lock up and pull me backward. Hardware had worked where software didn’t have enough to give. After easing the Explorer back to the rocky, dry dirt road, I thanked whichever engineer had convinced the finance team that a real differential was worth the cost.
What Is It?
This is a 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline. It’s the most off-road-focused version of the Ford Explorer, a three-row unibody crossover that competes against the Telluride, Highlander, Traverse, and so on. Ford, as with the rest of the industry, has decided that buyers want to go further off-road than we did a few years ago, and throws its hat in the overlanding-ish ring with the Explorer Timberline.
Visual changes distinguish the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline from its siblings – you’ll find a unique grille with optional auxiliary lights, orange accents inside and out, a green(!) interior with heathered gray cloth inserts on the seats, and black wheels. Ford also made some real hardware changes to the Explorer Timberline in the name of capability. Shocks from the Explorer Police Interceptor mix with those Bridgestone all-terrains to add half an inch of ground clearance, totaling 8.7 inches. A front rebound spring helps keep the nose in check on rough terrain. Steel skid plates cover all the important bits underneath. And yes, there’s a real Torsen limited-slip differential on the rear axle. No open diffs over here.
The 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline only offers one engine, the 2.3 liter turbocharged four cylinder shared with Ford’s Bronco and Mustang. The 2.3L EcoBoost produces 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, which flows to all four wheels on the rear-biased all-wheel drive system through a ten-speed torque converter automatic.
Ford has the Explorer Timberline priced between the Explorer ST and Explorer Limited, with my test car’s MSRP at $49,120.
Street Driving in the Explorer Timberline
Despite the looks and the hardware, the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline – as with all Explorers – will be driven on the street far more than not. And in typical city and highway driving, I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag.
Off-road suspension tuning combines with the all-terrain tires to produce a pretty good ride. One benefit of all these “let’s overland” trims is a return to reasonable tire sidewall sizes. Bumps don’t hurt! It’s not a canyon carver, but… it’s an Explorer. Even when pushed, the tires do a decent job at cornering. You just have to be okay with a little squirm in the process.
Less impressive was the engine. I like the 2.3 EcoBoost in the Bronco and love it in the Mustang. In the Explorer, it feels adequate enough but sounds coarse, out of character for the car it’s powering. While it felt sprightly enough (relatively) with just me driving, I question how it’d feel with six passengers on board, or a 5,300 pound trailer on the hitch. I would’ve preferred the twin-turbo 3.0 liter V6 offered in other Explorers here.
I cannot express just how much I love the green interior. With the gray seat centers and orange stitching everywhere, it is bold and funky and a delightful change from the black/gray/tan that continues to overwhelm much of the industry. Kudos, Ford. I wish I had liked the seats themselves, as I had a tough time finding a comfortable driving position. I was either too close to the pedals or too far from the steering wheel, and didn’t have enough lumbar support for my back on long trips. As with any new car, try it yourself as every body is different.
Infotainment runs on Ford’s older Sync 3 system and an eight-inch touchscreen. Fellow reviewers have panned the screen size and old software. I was fine with the size, as opposed to a gigantic screen (optional on other Explorers) that could distract more at night, though it certainly looks a bit outdated compared to sizes and aspect ratios of the competition. Sync 3 is, again, fine, and I had no issues with it while understanding it’s not on the bleeding edge of in-car software.
Is the Explorer Timberline Worth It?
My most interesting moments off-road in the Explorer Timberline were outlined above. Beyond that, I took it through scenarios that were vehicle-appropriate and also entirely doable in any other new Explorer. I appreciate the confidence that comes with skid plates and all-terrains, having ripped an all-season open on a sharp rock years ago. The limited-slip differential is another nice-to-have in the package. I think I’m left a little cold because the ride height isn’t markedly increased over other Explorers, and other Explorers offer more preferable engines while remaining capable enough.
Had Ford managed a bit more clearance – say, 9.5 inches like the Subaru Outback Wilderness offers – I would find more value in the package. It has the hardware to go on harder trails than I chose – slick mud aside – but is limited by clearance.
If you love the interior or the looks of the 2022 Ford Explorer Timberline, it’s certainly not a bad choice. I am truly glad to see the Explorer Timberline is more than just an appearance package, and I’m not clamoring for it to be a three-row Bronco alternative. But while I came away impressed by its resilience in that one muddy moment, I’d personally look to an Explorer Limited on engine choice alone.