I have been reporting on vehicles in these pages for more than 40 years. During that period, I have never been unable to tell readers what it is like to get behind the wheel. Until now.
Normal wear and tear, aided by osteoarthritis, brought on the need for a new hip. The instructions are pretty clear — “no driving” during recovery. That was a shocker! I have been driving since the day of my 16th birthday. I have driven and taught others how to drive. I enjoy driving and do so at every opportunity. It is well known within my family, and friends in the automotive journalism community that I prefer to drive rather than be driven.
Imagine my chagrin when I was told “no driving” for several weeks. Within hours of surgery, the reason was obvious. It is a struggle to get into and out of a vehicle, let alone drive one.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have places to go and things to do. So I need a driver.
That unenviable chore has fallen to my lovely and patient wife. I can count on my fingers and toes, the number of times this lady, has driven me anywhere. A thoroughly competent driver, she has helped me swap or deliver vehicles, every week for four decades. I have driven to and from the airport thousands of times during that period, turning the wheel over to her on departure, and taking it upon arrival.
This has been a mutually acceptable arrangement. The driver instructor side of me, makes for a terrible passenger. I have sworn to keep my comments to myself, during her period as chauffeur. I now have a fresh appreciation of all she does for me.
Since we still have to get about, I will continue my weekly vehicle reviews — with a difference. I will depend on her for “behind the wheel” observations of the next few test vehicles. There will be no talk of horsepower, torque, understeer/oversteer, etc. Instead, I will try to pass along the observations of this “average consumer.” My wife is not an automotive enthusiast, she doesn’t sit with me glued to the tube during a race, or probe in and around each new vehicle in our driveway. She has driven thousands over the years, only on occasion offering a comment. Even they are pretty general. “I like that one” or “nice colour.”
To wade into these uncharted waters, I used a Ford Explorer. Exploration it was indeed. Me for observing and she for having to actually explain what she thought of a vehicle.
The Explorer is a large, three-row SUV. This example was loaded to the gills and at two and one-half tons, not exactly an ideal vehicle for urban use. “It’s really big, looks like a minivan”, she said. She liked the metallic dark-blue colour, paired with lighter parchment interior. “Much lighter and brighter than all those dark interiors.” She is a pretty diminutive person, so she appreciated the running boards and ability to get into and out of the truck gracefully.
Once ensconced behind the wheel, her first observations involved the “excellent” seats and great visibility. After the first few drives the comments became more specific. Having experienced hundreds of new vehicles over the years, she wasn’t pleased with the blind spot information system. The purpose is to warn the driver of the presence of another vehicle or object in the adjacent lane, or “blind spot.” These systems do so by flashing an orange light in the appropriate side mirror. “The warning light is too far away and not bright enough,” she said.
The light is on the outside edge of the mirror, causing the driver to have to take their eyes further off the road than if placed on the inside edge. “I like the brighter ones that are on the inside of the mirror, they capture my attention,” she said.
This driver is regularly jumping into a strange vehicle, and having to finding the controls for lights, wipers, and HVAC. She liked the ease with which she could identify and operate the controls for the seats, mirrors, steering wheel and temperature. No searching through a screen full of apps.
We live in the city, where parking lots are usually pretty cramped. She quickly grew to like the optional forward-facing camera, and used it when parking in tight quarters to snuggle the big SUV up to the end of a parking spot or the vehicle ahead. That and the back-up camera put her at ease in busy parking lots.
The 2019 Ford Explorer was a suitable base for this exploration of a new period in my life — and marriage.
- Model: 2019 Ford Explorer Platinum AWD
- Engine: turbocharged, 3.5-litre, V6, 290 horsepower, 255 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
- Transmission: six-speed automatic
- NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 7.7 / 6.0
- Length: 5,047 mm
- Width: 2,291 mm
- Wheelbase: 2,865 mm
- Weight: 2,227 kg
- Price: $60,889 base, $66.754 as tested, including freight
- Options on test vehicle: floor liners, $200; second-row dual captain chairs, $500; roof rack 350; rear seat entertainment system, $2,100; cargo cover, $115; cargo mat, $100; running boards, 600