Ford’s Explorer ruled the sales charts in the 1990s, but the Firestone tire debacle and the emergence of crossovers has sapped the sport-ute’s lifeblood. Ford is hoping to change that with the debut of its Explorer America concept vehicle at this month’s Detroit auto show.
While officially described as a concept car, company insiders hint that a close look at the America concept will reveal the shape of what’s to come when Ford relaunches its mid-size SUV in a couple of years.
The concept suggests that Ford will follow in the tracks of its new crossover competition, migrating from body-on-frame to unibody construction. There are clearly some trade-offs with the change: while there’s a reduction in weight (150 pounds for the V-6 version) and a notable improvement in on-road driving dynamics, off-road capabilities are reduced, as is towing capacity. But for the average motorist, that’s likely to matter little.
By going with these downsized engines — a V-6 instead of a V-8, for example — a motorist would get about 20 percent better mileage, while the production of carbon dioxide would be reduced by 15 percent, according to Ford projections.
But there are other gains to be had, including the concept’s lighter weight and the use of additional mileage-minded technology, such as electric power steering. All told, the company estimates the America concept would yield as much as a 30-percent improvement in fuel economy, compared with the current Explorer.
The America’s design shows a migration away from existing SUV styling, with a look closer to Ford’s new Flex crossover. Both share the brand’s new signature three-bar grille. Other notable design cues on the America concept include a power-dome hood bulge, wrap-around rear glass, and a minivan-like sliding rear door, which improves access to the concept crossover’s three rows of seats. Inside, those seats can be slid into a variety of configurations; a work table, and seats can even deploy from the tailgate.
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