Cool Road Trip: Driving Through California's Pacific Coast Highway in the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid
Any driving enthusiast must have Googled the words “world’s most scenic drives” at least once in his or her life. The idea of just getting into a car and going off somewhere where the journey is just as—or even more—important than the destination is something that has fascinated people for decades, and roads that offer pleasant, even spectacular, views have become an instant bucket list for these road trip fanatics.
For me, the road on that list is the Pacific Coast Highway in California. I’ve dreamed about going on a road trip there for as far back as I can remember, even before I even learned how to drive. Driving down a highway on the edge of the sea, through winding cliffs and hills with views of the ocean as far as the eye can see—for anyone who loves to drive as much as I do, that’s heaven.
On a recent trip to the United States, I finally got to check that off my personal bucket list. And my trusty chariot was the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid. It’s the first time Ford is offering an electric drivetrain in the Explorer, and for my purposes during this trip, it was as close to a perfect drive as one could experience.
Space and lots of it
First of all, even though it was just me and a close friend on the trip, it was a long-haul flight, and so we had tons of luggage with us. Of course, that wasn’t a problem with the Explorer. The third row neatly folds to accommodate more space, and so our heavy suitcases fit with plenty of room to spare.
The main cabin itself is expansive. Climbing into the driver's seat, I immediately felt comfortable. Not even the fact that we picked up the car immediately upon our arrival in San Francisco after traveling for almost 24 hours could dampen my excitement. It took a while to figure out where we needed to go (despite a very capable GPS in the car), but pretty soon, we were pulling out of the carpark and making our way down the freeway and toward Route 1, which is another name for the PCH.
I initially had apprehensions about taking the wheel in the States, mostly because I was paranoid about messing up, committing a violation, or worse, getting into an accident, but one thing I discovered almost immediately was how incredibly easy and chill it was. Driving in the US is a lot like driving in Manila, except the roads are nice, most drivers are considerate, and we hardly encountered any traffic jams. (Okay, maybe driving in the US is nothing like driving in Manila).
Those first few hours behind the wheel allowed me to get to know the new Explorer. Combining a 3.3-liter hybrid V6 engine and 10-speed automatic transmission with a 35-kilowatt electric motor and 1.5-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery pack, the midsize SUV’s power output is at 318 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque. Simply put, it was a smooth, easy drive, with barely any noise, vibration and harshness. Power was there when I needed it, especially during long stretches of California's freeways.
Eventually, my friend and I found ourselves in Monterey, just south of San Francisco. It’s a small seaside town with its own Fisherman’s Wharf, which is where we stopped to get some lunch. Surprisingly, jetlag hadn’t hit yet (remember we were coming off of a really long flight), so we had the energy to walk around and take in the scenery.
A dream come true
Eventually we hopped back in the car and made our way back to Route 1. Soon enough, the land to our right gave way to water and we soon saw what we came for—winding gray roads, jagged brown cliffs, pounding white surf, and calm blue ocean that stretched out far into the horizon. It was the scenery I had in mind based on countless photos I’ve seen online, and I was finally gazing at it in real life. To say that all of it was breathtaking is simply not enough.
Things you’ve imagined rarely ever live up to your expectations, but this one truly did. We stopped a few times within that first 30 or so minutes of driving down that part of the highway so I could admire the views from beyond the confines of the Explorer. I breathed in fresh and salty ocean air, the wind whipped my hair every which way, and I could feel the early afternoon sun tickling my skin. The light bounced off of the water, sparkling as it did like tiny twinkling stars floating in a blue, undulating sky.
Our first pit stop was the town of Cambria, which we chose because it was roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Sometime during that drive I finally felt the beginnings of fatigue, and I had to pull over at a gas station and take a literal power nap because I could barely hold my eyes open.
The little things
About 20 minutes later, we were back on the road, and made our way straight to Cambria. What I appreciated with the Explorer were little things like how easy it was to connect it to my phone, intuitive headlights that automatically dimmed when it sensed approaching cars, multiple USB charging ports, and plenty of storage units and places to keep things like my phone, coffee tumbler or water bottle, and other sundry stuff.
We had some slight trouble locating our AirBnb (we must have inputted the wrong address), but we found it eventually. It was a charming white house just off the town’s main road. The temperature had dropped to nearly freezing by the time we freshened up and went out again to grab a bite to eat at a nearby diner.
The next day, we were back on the road, and by then, I felt like I had been driving in the States for years. Eventually we reached our destination: West Covina in Los Angeles, California, where my friend and I stayed with some of her relatives.
I had the good fortune of driving the Explorer around for the entire duration of my two-week trip in the US, save for a few days when my friend and I flew to New York City. I drove it from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, on highways through the desert and landscapes that seemed almost otherwordly. We took it on a long but worthwhile drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and back. We even drove through a snowstorm, and although winter hadn’t completely arrived yet, I’d never been more thankful for a vehicle that could heat the seats and the steering wheel with the push of a button.
In each trip, we averaged a mileage of 24 to 27 miles per gallon (about 38 to 44 kilometers per gallon), and that’s on the Normal drive mode. I hardly needed to switch to Sport, except during a couple of short stretches just to feel even more power and faster acceleration.
On the final long stretch, from Los Angeles back to San Francisco, we took on another passenger, a family friend who sat in one of the captain’s chairs in the second row. We also loaded up on supplies for the trip that was supposed to take about six hours but eventually ended up taking almost nine hours, no thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday rush that caused a bit of heavy traffic.
In a couple of instances when I miscalculated acceleration, the Explorer’s collision warning with automatic emergency braking kicked in. Other safety features include blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist (a warning sounded when the car sensed that I was straying out of my lane, and even suggested taking a break), 360-degree camera, and speed limit sign recognition, which I thought was really cool.
But all good things must come to an end, and eventually it was time to say goodbye to our faithful steed. By that time, I felt like the Ford Explorer Hybrid was my own, so parting with it proved incredibly difficult. Combining looks, performance, and practicality, this new iteration of the Ford Explorer is the kind of vehicle that’ll take you through nearly every kind of terrain and weather, through city or country diving, and indeed, it’s one that can even help make your driving dreams come true.
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