2011 Ford Explorer
For 20 years, the Ford Explorer has been considered the
people’s SUV, the one that took SUVs off dirt paths and onto pavement. The Ford Explorer is so synonymous with SUVs that it’s hard to imagine one that’s more crossover than rugged people mover. And yet, here it is, an all-new 2011 Explorer with a unibody frame instead of a body-on-frame design, a modification that sets the Explorer firmly in a gentler segment. It’s wider and longer now, but thanks to new sheet metal, it more closely resembles its smaller, redesigned brother, the Edge
. And while it probably won't be crawling over boulders any time soon, the Explorer still has the chops to traverse a good amount of rough terrain, ford about 18 inches of water and tow 5,000 lbs. The cabin features a refined, upscale look with the coolest tech and touchscreen integration we’ve seen in a production vehicle in this price range. And should you find yourself unconvinced that this generation is set to become another bestseller, check out the fuel economy – up to 25 mpg on the highway. Turns out, a lot can change in 20 years.
What's to Like
Fuel economy numbers now rival the more traditional modes of family transportation – minivans and wagons. The third row of seating is surprisingly spacious enough to fit adults. The interior redesign has made for a more refined and sophisticated look with an abundance of soft-touch materials and tech.
What's Not to Like
Oddly enough, legroom in the second row isn’t quite roomy enough. The new MyFord Touch, while innovative, can be finicky and hard to navigate. Pricing can rise beyond what some might expect to pay for a car in this segment. Without a V-8 option and true SUV pedigree, some more hardcore drivers will want to look elsewhere.
The Explorer, by all intents and purposes, is no longer a true SUV, and luckily that means only good things for ride comfort. The suspension is supple, but not so loose that the car goes to pieces in corners. In fact, it handles irregularities in the road much better than some of the competition. Steering is direct and well-weighted for this particular segment, and acceleration – prompted through a fairly light throttle – remains strong despite the loss of a V-8 engine choice. Curve control is a brilliant addition to the Explorer’s safety lineup. The system will apply engine and wheel braking to control the vehicle in corners if you hit a bend too quickly, correcting the speed to help you stay within your lane and on the road. Another new addition, the terrain management system, allows you – with a twist of a knob – to select the type of terrain you’re about to tackle, and with it, traction and stability is maximized for mud, sand or snow.
Engine and Drivetrain
Ford dropped the V-8 option for this generation and fitted the Explorer with a 3.5-liter V-6. The automaker is quick to point out that the new, smaller engine is nearly as powerful as the outgoing V-8, delivering 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. Four-wheel drive is available, while a six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Those with a penchant for gear control will want to opt for the manual-style shift mode.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
This Explorer may not give you the choice between two and three rows, but there is plenty of versatility found elsewhere. For those interested in schlepping fewer bodies and more cargo, a one-touch stowing third row will come in handy. Hill decent control and the Explorer’s terrain management system are just two of many features designed to make off-roading easier.
Key Technology Evaluation
Ford continues to push the envelope when it comes to in-car tech, and the Explorer hasn’t been excluded from its offerings. MyFord Touch, first introduced on the Edge
, connects you to the car’s various functions through a streamlined touchscreen interface. Next-generation Sync improves upon already stellar voice recognition that allows you to control almost every function hands-free. Optional mobile WiFi, new for the Explorer, uses your WiFi adaptor to connect up to five passengers to the Internet.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Remember how you’re lamenting the switch to a more crossover-type Explorer? This is why it will all be okay. The Explorer has upped fuel economy by 25 percent over the outgoing model and now receives 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway in front-wheel drive and 17/23 in all-wheel drive. The navigation system also provides a feature called ‘Eco Route,’ which uses traffic data and averages road speed to determine the most fuel-efficient way to reach your destination.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
Explorer interiors have evolved steadily over the years, and this model’s design represents the most dramatic advancement yet. The interior is more refined and upscale than in previous versions, and seating is comfortable. The middle row has less legroom than expected, but the third row is spacious enough for adults. Even the base model is equipped with a cool flat-panel interface, though the one with the navigation system is even cooler.
Despite being longer (by eight inches) and wider (by five inches) than the last generation, this Explorer looks more compact thanks to Edge
-like styling. The Explorer is rounded, but also grounded, reducing the all-too-familiar bubbly look. Blacked out A-pillars give the windows a wrap-around sunglasses look, while cutouts along the side panels break up all the metal.
Market Segment and Pricing
The three-row SUV segment is a large one, and the Explorer isn’t the dominating force it once was. Hoping to renew the enthusiasm and capitalize on the long-standing Explorer name, Ford has set pricing at $28,995 for the base model, $31,995 for the XLT and $37,995 for the Limited. Others vying for sales in this segment include the Jeep Grand Cherokee
, Hyundai Veracruz
, Toyota 4Runner
, Nissan Pathfinder, GMC Acadia
and Dodge Durango.
What We Think
Heavy competition from the newly redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee
and updated Dodge Durango will make it hard to crown an outright winner; however, the Explorer has all the right components to remind buyers why it’s been successful for so long. The decision to scrap a V-8 might tick some people off, but fuel economy improvements, interior refinements and the addition of more tech than ever make the Explorer’s ‘pro’ list considerably longer than the ‘con.’