a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Aug, 2011

A road trip with Ford

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Giveaways and product reviews|travel talk

We’re a happy go lucky, road-trippin’ kind of family. That’s why when the agency that represents Ford Canada asked me if we wanted to test drive a new Ford Explorer I had to say yes. It was excellent timing. We needed a vehicle that we could load up with our camping gear and take down bumpy roads for a week in July and they had one they could lend to us. In essence, the perfect test drive scenario.

This is where I have to confess that I am a rather nervous cautious driver. I don’t know why, I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Ok, don’t answer that.

So when I actually sat behind the wheel of the Explorer, I thought, oh my gosh, I’m driving a bus. As some of you know, we drive a Prius, which is a totally different animal. This post won’t be a comparison between the two… it’s not fair, and besides, it’d be like comparing apples to golf balls, but I only mention it because size-wise, that’s what I’m used to driving.

The Explorer is a big vehicle. We had a lot of errands to run around town as we prepared for our trip and I was hesitant to try to squeezepark it between the REGULAR cars in the parking lot for fear of scratching the car and/or someone else’s car. I’m sure the girls wondered why I was suddenly making a beeline to the remote end of each lot we parked in. I shudder to think of what I would have done in a parking garage. At least we got exercise, eh? ?

That being said, it was the perfect thing for our trip.

Our vehicle

The Explorer had a lot of “around the dashboard things” that I liked. It took a bit of figuring out, but only because it was new to us. I didn’t have to take my hands off the wheel to make adjustments to the A/C and the stereo, and there were several screens that gave me “at a glance” info I liked such as distance-to-empty, and the title of the song that’s playing on the stereo.

My favourite feature – the one I have missed the most – was the amazing back up camera and sensors. You put that thing in reverse, and not only can you see behind you on a centre touch screen but you can see if you have turned your tires far enough. Your chosen path is outlined as a little graphic. If that little “tire track” graphic leads to an obstacle, just turn the wheel and the graphic repositions itself. Backing up into our campsite was a snap. A SNAP. Mark was able to easily back it in between people, tree stumps, coolers and pool toys. Overall there was an undeniable safe driving feeling to the Explorer. For example, I’m pretty sure it has no blindspots (there’s even a little light that flashes in your mirror if there’s a car in your blindspot) and I felt secure driving it.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you about horsepower and torque and electro-hydraulic what have you’s … I am about cushy seats, Bluetooth and cupholders. This saddens me somewhat, but I am what I am. I can however, tell you that the Explorer has a lot to offer. It is very comfortable, and we were treated to a very smooth highway ride that seemed to be over in a flash. Mark really liked the way it handled. I did too. The Explorer really gripped the road and even the rougher sideroads leading in and out of our campground seemed a little smoother. Our Explorer also had a great voice-activated system which made me feel a bit like a sea captain, barking out orders to an invisible robot girl in regards to cabin cooling, fan speed, radio station, phone calls, navigation, and everything else in between. Turned out I didn’t need to bark very loud, it was high tech baby!

The back row (third row) seats folded down at the push of a button. The second row, where the girls sat, was spacious for my kids, and they were thrilled they had their own cooling system back there too. Closing the trunk as you stood on the outside was at the push of a button too. (I thought that was a bit of overkill myself. God. Can’t people close their own trunks anymore? I thought fleetingly of the rubbery people who populated the flying space colony in Wall-E.) But I like that it was spacious, because apparently we needed every square inch of the 20+ cubic feet that was allotted to us.

Staged for your enjoyment

That photo was staged for your entertainment. :)

Anyway, yes. Let’s talk fuel efficiency. This is a big concern for us especially given the price of gas right now (it is currently hovering between $1.20 and $1.30 in Ottawa). I was happy to see that the new Explorer gets pretty good fuel economy, better than I had expected. I think we hovered around 12L/100km for our entire trip, which is pretty good for a vehicle of this size.

This experience made me think a lot about who buys this vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, it was the perfect road trip vehicle for us. All of our camping gear actually fit, and we had more of it than ever before too! But we are “live small” people. Our car is smaller. Our house is smaller. Our order of fries is smaller. The Explorer is the kind of car we need … but only one week out of every year.

I would love to read a profile of the typical SUV owner, or skim the results of a survey that shows what people use their SUVs for. Who is the primary market for vehicles like this one? I have a feeling it’s moms. But maybe I’m wrong.

If you are a rural landowner who has two kids in hockey and one in football, and need the extra horsepower to tow snowmobiles or motorboats every weekend along with the occasional load of wood, then, heck, you definitely need something like this. Why wouldn’t you get one? It’s luxurious, comfortable, fuel-efficient and it’s got guts.

Perhaps people think it’s safer. Maybe it is, in a way, because if you’re behind the wheel you’re bigger and heavier than everyone else on the road. But for me, a city gal who putters between the library and the grocery store and needs to park in tight places, it’s not enough to make me want to take the leap into a vehicle in this class.

Thank you Ford, for giving me a peek at what life would be like with an SUV. It was a treat to be able to give it a spin. If you want to read a real review, try this one at Autos.ca. :)

I’d love to hear what you guys are driving. Why did you choose your car? Are you an SUV person, or something else? I’d love to talk car talk for a bit.


21 Responses to "A road trip with Ford"

1 | Rae

August 8th, 2011 at 9:00 am

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We drive a ford freestyle (now the flex) that has 3 rows – but we also have one more child and one more adult and a much larger dog.

Our other car is also an SUV – a pontiac torrent – and was purchased when we were a family of 4 that got a large dog. I wanted her safely restrained in the back so that she would not become a projectile. There’s only room for her in the freestyle if we leave my brother behind, and then she wears a seatbelt!

We have outgrown the torrent, and now that the kids are older I’m looking at trading it for a Fiesta for the business as I do a lot more driving and a tiny car makes sense. Also I can get it in Chartreuse green ;)

2 | FireMom

August 8th, 2011 at 9:16 am

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We have the Ford Escape. It’s a small SUV and it’s fuel economy is crazy amazing. It’s surprisingly spacious and I kind of love ours.

The staged picture made me giggle this morning. :)

3 | Giulia

August 8th, 2011 at 9:18 am

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Small, small, small – Toyota Echo hatchback with two kids. Works great for us and the car just won’t give up on me, so I keep driving it. I get gas once a month even commuting to work and that is why I’ve stuck with it. Camping gear won’t fit, but that fits in a travel box on the roof rack.

4 | Judy

August 8th, 2011 at 9:36 am

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We currently drive a Dodge Calibre hatchback, which we love.

But in my youth I drove I Nissan Pathfinder and LOVED it. I played hockey and could fit myself and three other players in plus our gear. (I also had access to a small car – which was awful for fitting sticks into). It was great because we could take one car instead of four to the arena, and not all my team mates had cars.

Sometimes the gear of your life just doesn’t fit in the smaller car.

5 | Javamom

August 8th, 2011 at 10:00 am

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We bought, after looking long and hard at a million second hand options, a second hand Honda Odessey…I too feel/felt like driving a bus at first. There is just so much car behind me when I back out! ;)

Love the SUV thing. LOVE IT more now that we went to Montreal in it (6 hours) and camping (4.5 hours). Seriously, it’s easy and comfortable when you can pack the kitchen sink and still have legroom, so to speak.

We test drove a few different second hand SUVs, but this one was our favorite, despite the fact that it had more mileage and was more expensive. So far we have had no problems (knock on wood).

6 | coffee with julie

August 8th, 2011 at 11:00 am

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Actually, we have a Ford Explorer. But it’s a much, much older model! We are extremely happy with it. We bought it second-hand for my husband who needs a truck for his work and hobbies (carpentry) as well as a vehicle that is heavy enough to tow our camper trailer and a large trailer that he takes to the construction site. It has never given us any trouble, so when I needed a new vehicle last summer, I picked a Ford too.

7 | Tiana

August 8th, 2011 at 11:11 am

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I drive a Nissan Versa Hatchback with 2 kids and 2 small dogs. They have to stay on the floor of the back, but they are dogs so…? That’s probably the safest place for them.

Husband drives a Toyota Camry Hybrid. He hates it because it’s basically an old man car but the fuel economy is awesome for it’s size and it fits all the stuff it needs to fit for his job and our life.

He also just got a ’69 Buick Skylark for funsies. He drives it when it’s sunny haha.

8 | Anu

August 8th, 2011 at 11:45 am

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We have no car as we do not need it for everyday living. We walk/bike to work, school, daycare, shopping etc. We use buses when absolutely necessary to go somewhere further away. We chose our home based on distance to services and work (and happen to love the ‘hood).

But I do LOVE driving, and consider it a pleasure when we rent a car to get out of town. We pick a car type based on the needs of the trip and # of passengers. About 5-10 years ago small cars (Rio, Focus and alike) were horrid, but I must admit, small cheap cars have become somewhat better to drive in the recent years. My experiences indicate that the more expensive the car, the more pleasurable the drive – fundamentally so. I kind of like it that I get to “test drive” all different types of cars regularly through renting (about 5x per year).

If I were to buy a car right now… it would be tough to balance price with “wants”. In any case, it would be small and well made (reliable) due to my values and prob. a hatchback for practicality.

9 | Ken

August 8th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

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We used to be a one smallish car family and we would rent a vehicle to go camping and on trips.
Then I changed jobs and needed a car for work so we got a used escort. I don’t need one anymore but once you have two cars you just can’t go back.

We tried renting a mid sized north american car for a trip once, but it held less than our Protege. My wife got P.O’d and took it back to the rental agency and said “give me smething I can use”. We got a Mitsubishi Outlander. Liked it so much we bought one. 4WD, bigger, quieter, room for the kids and ALL of our camping stuff and its like driving my living room chair its so comfy. And the mileage is pretty good.

I would like to be a one car family again but that just isn’t going to happen, sigh.

I find SUV’s are like the station wagon of old, you don’t really need that much car except for a few days a year.

10 | Jen_nifer

August 8th, 2011 at 9:02 pm

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It is hard to spot any kind of sedan at the local arena come hockey season. I think the size/space required to hold hockey equipment for more than one person might drive a lot of SUV purchases for Canadians.

11 | Carla

August 8th, 2011 at 9:40 pm

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We have 3 kids and… no car. We walk, bike and bus. We borrow a car 2x per week and rent a car when we go farther (like a week to a cottage recently). It can get complicated, but overall I like the mostly car-free style and hope we can keep it up. We did have a car in England for a couple of years, and who knows in the future. Overall, I prefer small cars, but with 3 kids this can be complicated.

12 | Nadine

August 8th, 2011 at 10:49 pm

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After having read this I am certain that I would LOVE a Ford Explorer !!!! But the reality is that we don’t really need THAT big , as we are after all a family of three.
We do drive a small SUV, a Ford Escape and the size allows us to go out of town for our daughter’s dance events , on many camping trips (we do everload ) , drives to the US (Vermont, Connecticut, Florida )… and this summer I really enjoyed being able to pack my daughter’s camping gear (duffle bags, paddle) for her 2-week stay at her camp in Algonquin Park.
I used to “snob” SUVs before we got this one but I am a “dance mom” (same as soccer mom) and usually end up carpooling at least 3 girls back and forth to the studio 4-5 times a week, so now I couldn’t see my life without that vehicle !
On the other hand, both my husband and I work mainly from home, so we do go easy on the mileage.

13 | Mandy in Nova Scotia

August 9th, 2011 at 9:14 am

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Well we (my husband, 11 & 7 year old boys & myself) own a Dodge Caravan, which is fine, but for the last month my husband has been driving a Ford Flex which was rented for him by his work and we absolutely LOVE it. It has all the bells & whistles that you described with the Explorer and it’s the most comfortable car I have ever driven in. And I actually have found that the push button to close the trunk has came in handy when my boys are helping carry in groceries I don’t have to worry about them slamming the trunk on themselves or each other (which has been a concern in our van). I feel like Ford has come a long way in their designs and in the Flex at least I feel like they have thought of everything!

14 | zchamu

August 9th, 2011 at 9:33 am

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We drive a VW tiguan – the equivalent of an escape or a CRV, that sort of size. Small SUV. I had driven a VW Golf or GTI for years. When we had the kid, we decided to go a little larger for a few reasons – one being the height of the car. Buckling her in to a carseat in a compact was less than fun. Also, the tiguan had AWD, which is nice during the winter here.

15 | Heather M

August 9th, 2011 at 9:35 am

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I just am in the process of replacing an Escape. I went around different dealerships and different makes of car and everything leads me back to Ford… and the Escape.

For me I like driving North American vehicles, and something that lets me carry a kayak on summer weekends.

16 | Marianne

August 9th, 2011 at 3:10 pm

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We have a Pontiac Vibe which I really enjoy driving. But with 2 child car seats in the back, there’s no room for anyone in the middle seat. And when I have the full size stroller in the back there’s not much room for a large grocery shop or any bulky items. When we last went camping we just managed to stuff everything in … but now there’s one more child, so unless we tied her car seat to the roof …

So we are looking to replace my husband’s 11 year old Chevy Cavalier with something larger in about a year. So far, he’s all about the Grand Caravan, but I want to make sure we can’t get away with something a little smaller … though so far the price point of the Grand Caravan is very attractive.

We’re a 2-car family for sure, given where we live (Bridlewood — a lovely suburb but it’s a drive to everything except our school and the one tiny strip mall), though we plan to maintain a larger family car and a smaller vehicle purely for my husband’s relatively short (but not on any reasonable bus routes) commute to work. Ideally one day in the future when I’m back at work I’ll be able to transfer to a teaching job at one of the schools right here in Bridlewood and then we’d be able to go down to one car again but at the moment it’s not practical.

17 | Miss Vicky

August 9th, 2011 at 5:30 pm

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I used to drive a Toyota Matrix, but when I needed to get a new car for work and my non-union Matrix wouldn’t cut it, we upsized to the Chevrolet Traverse. It’s basically in the same category as the Ford Flex. We picked it because it had the option of a third row in case we wanted to bring extra kids or Uncle Phil on road trips with us, and two carseats does not allow for extra passengers in the second row…. unless they are very skinny….

We picked the Traverse over the Flex because there was more cargo space behind the third row – room enough to accommodate the pooch we’ll likely get next year.

Of course, the transition to such a big vehicle was an adjustment for me. The back up camera and sensors is much appreciated in this house!

I lament the fact that there are no decent station wagons on the market. If you need more space than a hatchback can give, then your only choice is van or SUV, and in both cases there seems to be a privileging of passenger legroom over cargo space. If I could get a car with decent cargo, that would be my preference!

18 | suze

August 10th, 2011 at 6:48 am

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I drive a Protege hatchback. I love it for me and my two kids. Only downside is that with the 2 booster seats, there’s no room for a third kid in case of friend.

Except in one instance where I fit my two (one in a booster, one in a carseat) and my friend (passenger seat) and her infant son (rear-facing in the middle) AND all our stuff to go camping for a weekend. But we were packed in there like sardines.

I had great hope for the Mazda5 but when you have the rear seats in use, there is no storage space. My friends and I all wish someone would make a decent wagon with an optional 3rd row, that’s not an SUV or van.

Ford, if you’re listening, can you make it fuel-efficient as well – or maybe even a hybrid?

19 | Jennifer

August 12th, 2011 at 7:19 am

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Like my friends Anu & Carla, we are part of the car-less class. When we did have wheels we had a Subaru Forrester, which is a smallish SUV. Two reasons we went the SUV route. Safety was the first factor and second was to accomodate dogs. We had two furry babies both on the very large side. The SUV allowed for a safe space for them to travel in.

20 | LO

August 14th, 2011 at 1:12 am

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WE drive Jeeps. We are on our fourth. We have a new Jeep Liberty-replaced our old one (we go nuts on the mileage so they don’t last as long) and a ‘Jeep Jeep’ or a Wrangler:)
We are NOT van people-no offense to anyone out there:) Our kids play sports, hockey included and we have always had a BIG dog as in Bernese Mountain Dog:) We also haul a lot of stuff and do crazy things like make big furniture purchases far away where things are cheaper and then pick them up ourselves. We live a little rural now too so we always need salt or wood or something. It’s not the biggest SUV and not the smallest but it’s perfect for us. Hubby’s Wrangler is a great second vehicle and it’s convertible:)

21 | A quick note and a pickup truck >> a peek inside the fishbowl

July 29th, 2013 at 6:07 am

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[…] couple years ago Ford loaned us a really great vehicle for our camping trip – an Explorer and it was ideal. I can summarize the experience thusly: four people, loads of camping gear, total […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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