These rough test mules spotted by TheCarConnection.com's spy photographers are a mix of Ford Taurus X and Ford Flex, but there are some telling alterations, raising the prototype's ride-height, along with a higher cowl, and rigged A-pillars to accommodate what appears to be a more steeply raked windshield. There are also clear signs around the rear hatch and roof rails that the platform has been widened. While the front clip is pure Ford Flex, the lowest slat of the Flex's three-bar grille has been removed, perhaps to better approximate airflow of the next Explorer's grille.
Ford also used the Taurus X body on mules for the 2009 Ford Flex and 2010 Lincoln MKT, but those mules had additional length added to their wheelbases. This latest mule features no such additions, suggesting that this new model will be shorter than the Flex for a more fuel-friendly footprint--and suggesting that it might also replace the Edge in Ford's crossover lineup.
The new unibody 2011 Ford Explorer crossover is expected to reach the market in 2010--provided Ford's financial condition doesn't disrupt its product plan any more.