Ford has spent all summer building buzz for the 2011 Explorer, using Facebook, teaser shots, and other means to generate interest. Well, today's the day in which we in the automotive media can finally share the details with the rest of the world.
The Explorer is scheduled to be revealed live in several cities across the country--with the the unveiling in Manhattan being the main focus--and it will also be exposed to the world via Facebook. Here's what we know so far.
Once of the world's strongest-selling SUVs, the Explorer's star faded over the past fifteen or twenty years, starting with the tire-blowout/rollover debacle. Rising concerns about gas prices and fuel economy, along with the industry-wide shift to car-based "crossover" SUVs further dented the Explorer's mojo. Consumers showed a strong preference for crossovers, due to their car-like ride and handling and stronger fuel economy. Further hurting the Explorer was the fact that it continued to be built on an aging platform, while Ford offered the crossover Edge and the boxy, unique, Taurus-based Flex.
For 2011, the Explorer is shifting to a car-based crossover platform, and it, too, will share its platform with the Taurus and Flex. Ford is aware of the Explorer's off-road reputation, and therefore the Explorer will offer 7.9 inches of ground clearance, optional all-wheel drive (badges will say "4WD"), a towing capacity of up to 5,000 lbs on V-6 models (trailer-sway control is available, as is a tow/haul mode for the automatic transmission), and a terrain-management system (standard on all-wheel drive models) that will allow drivers to choose from four different modes for the AWD system, depending on road conditions. A Hill Descent Control system will also be offered.
Power will come from either an optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 237 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque, or a standard 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 255 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are of the dual-overhead cam variety, and Ford promises a fuel-economy gain of 30 percent over the previous generation 4.0-liter V-6 for the new four-cylinder, and a 32-percent boost for the new V-6 over the old model's optional 5.0-liter V-8.
Both engines will be paired with six-speed automatic transmissions, which will be uniquely geared to suit each engine. XLT and Limited models will offer manumatic shifting. The Explorer will also offer 17-, 18-, and 19-inch wheels.
Weight savings and the EcoBoost engines are responsible for the better numbers, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn't done its testing yet, so no hard mpg numbers are available.
The 2011 Explorer will have softer styling that previous models, softer even then the Explorer American Concept shown at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, and does grow some in size--its about 5 inches wider and 3 inches longer than the outgoing model. Interestingly, the 2011 model is about 1.5 to 2 inches lower. The new Explorer will offer standard seating for up to seven and have a power-folding third seating row that can fold flat.
For families that make safety a priority, the 2011 Ford Explorer will be the world's first vehicle with inflatable safety belts, which will be mounted on the second row outboard seats. This feature acknowledges that both children and older adults are likely to ride back there. The inflatable belts spread restraining force over the entire body, reducing force on any one area of the body, and they also restrict head motion in the event of an impact.