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2011 Ford Explorer: First Look at Ford's Most Important New SUV

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2011 Ford Explorer

2011 Ford Explorer

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At the peak of the late-1990s sport utility craze, Ford sold almost half a million Explorers. But as car-based "crossovers" have stolen share from truck-based SUVs, that number has fallen.

Still, the Explorer remains a vitally important vehicle for Ford, which says that 95 percent of all car buyers recognize the name.

So the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer has a tough task: It must retain all the "authenticity" and capability of a rugged truck-based SUV--or, as Ford puts it, it must be a "no-compromise SUV" that offers families a "sense of adventure" even if they only use it around the suburbs.

But at the same time, it has to fix the two problems that drive buyers away from SUVs toward crossovers: lousy fuel economy, and truck-like ride and handling. Ford promises that the new model is "30 percent more fuel efficient" than the old one, and its ride and handling should benefit from 10 years of development and underpinnings derived from the Taurus sedan and Flex crossover.

Still, Ford plays up its toughness, saying it must meet the needs of those 20 percent of Explorer owners who take the vehicle off paved roads. So the badge on the back says "4WD" rather than "AWD," underscoring the butch qualities of the all-wheel-drive system, and it has 7.9 inches of ground clearance.

The 2011 Explorer offers one of several Ford firsts, a Terrain Management System similar to the one on the much pricier Land-Rover LR4. It lets the driver select one of four settings to identify the road surface--normal, sand, mud and ruts, or snow mode--as well as offering Hill Descent control that requires the driver only to steer while the car descends at a safe pace.

Launched today with a series of events in major cities--New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas among them--the 2011 Ford Explorer will launch this November.

STYLING

At the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, Ford showed an Explorer America concept that was meant to point the way toward redefining the Explorer for the new age.

To our eyes, though, the production 2011 Explorer is notably softer and more carlike than the concept. Its 2010 predecessor was clearly a truck: slab-sided, high-riding, and narrow for its height.

The new 2011 model is tall--opening the door reveals a stepover higher than you might imagine from looking at it--but wide enough where it has obviously different proportions. It is, in fact, fully 5 inches wider than its predecessor, though its high stance clearly indicates its all-wheel-drive roots.

2011 Ford Explorer

2011 Ford Explorer

Enlarge Photo

Proportions aside, though, the 2011 Ford Explorer is a substantial seven-seat people-and-stuff hauler, and it looks it. The pillar behind the rear doors, for instance, remains body color--a key identifier for the model. Overall, we think the new Explorer looks like a halfway blend of the Explorer America concept and the old Ford Taurus X crossover, a model that never caught on despite its capabilities.

Inside, the interior is a notable step up from the previous Explorer. It's fully car-like, and only the rotating Terrain Management System knob on the console--with a center button for Hill Descent Control--gives away its off-pavement capabilities.

PERFORMANCE

The 2011 Explorer offers two engine choices, but Ford will likely spend far more time discussing the smaller of the two: a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four developing 237 horsepower that puts out 250 foot-pounds of torque--as much as the 4.0-liter V-6 base engine in the previous Explorer.

Ford is expanding its efficient EcoBoost engines aggressively into more vehicle lines, and the 2011 Explorer is the second for the direct-injected, turbocharged EcoBoost four; that engine will also appear in the 2011 Ford Edge five-seat crossover.


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Comments (5)
  1. All this talk about fuel economy and they don't even have a number to give use? What a let down.
     
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  2. This looks like a GMC Acadia with a Ford grill and headlights.
     
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  3. It may look like something else but the tech is original and quite impressive. I would love to see those MPG numbers too.
     
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  4. FAIL: But at the same time, it has to fix the two problems that drive buyers away from SUVs toward crossovers: lousy fuel economy, and truck-like ride and handling. THIS WAS A TRUCK!!! THAT IS THE POINT.
     
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  5. I really like most of if not all of the new Ford line up for 2011-12. They are producing great looking, safe vehicles with the latest high tech safety options available. What I don't care for is how they advertise many of these vehicles. You really have to look at several reviews to find out some specific information. take their new 4cyl. eco-boost engine. Most of their adds don't say that this engine will only be avaiable in FWD vehicles only and that the cost for this engine option is substantial. At 4-5 greater mpg. it would take an awful lot of driving just to break even with the added cost for this engine option.
     
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