The 2011 Ford Explorer won't match the company's own Flex for the kind of horizontally usable space that makes it easier to load people and cargo. Even so, the new Explorer lays out its cubic feet and features with swell attention to headroom and easy access.
Up front, the Explorer supports driver and passenger with softer cushions and active headrests that don't press forward too far, as has been the case on some recent Fords. The second-row seat is a little less cozy. Without the sunroof option, headroom soars more than four inches over a six-foot passenger and there's no doubt the Explorer's a wider vehicle than before (by about five inches). Two adults fit easily, with room for a child between.
The quibbles are with the Explorer's seat-bottom cushions. With the standard second-row bench seat, that bottom cushion is short, and tilts down at its front edge a bit. The Explorer lacks the sliding second-row bench you'll find in the more compact Chevy Equinox--but we'd still trade that for a properly angled bottom cushion.
Even though it's an "SUV," according to the ads we've seen, the Explorer apes the most clever crossovers with easy-flip seats. The second-row chairs have levers that make it easier to fold the seats for access to the cramped, kid-sized third-row seat. The second-row bench can be swapped out for buckets, which still flip forward.
When it's time to haul more cargo than people, the Explorer's third-row seat folds out of the way--with power controls, if you want to save those ergs for spin class. In that cargo bin, you'll find some of the Explorer's least pretty plastics and trim, but you'll also be able to cram in 21 cubic feet of stuff. That's just behind the third-row seat; tip forward the back two rows, and the Explorer lays 81 cubic feet of open room at knee height. It's almost all available, since the Explorer's seats fold flat and offer up a less vulnerable grade of carpeting than you'll find in a pricier SUV.