The old Explorer was a truck that pretended to a higher level of sophistication; this one does a Meryl Streep take on the peculiar SUV dialect, nailing the finer points and going a long way to winning you over to its interpretation with a few subtle twists.
There's more SUV in the new 2011 Ford Explorer's sheetmetal, than anywhere else in or on the new ute. If you're worried passers-by will know you're driving a family vehicle, though, don't. The Explorer's body looks as trucky as ever, in the best way possible. Follow its angled sheetmetal around the car, and and you'll pick up on the slight rolled corners and embossed sides that give a gentle carlike nudge to the upright shape. It telegraphs "SUV" more than you might think possible, since the undergear also comes in Taurus SHO form.
That high hood, the tall grille and those thick horizontal ribs conspire with the distinct angle of the C-pillar to hark back to the days when the Explorer was the best-selling wagon in America. Details like the perforated grille pieces and big winged taillamps and a minivan-ish tailgate are more like the pieces you'd see on passenger cars, but they tend to fade into the background, behind the sport-ute talking points.
Once you're inside the Explorer cabin, the SUV impression falls apart--for good reasons. The oldest Explorer had a miserable interior, and the last version was simply boring and plain. This time Ford pointed out Audi and BMW interiors as their targets. Given the knockout interiors in the new Flex and F-150, the Explorer's convincing, well-made cabin knocks off some of those high-falutin' targets, easily. The Explorer dash is far more handsome than, say, the Audi Q7; it's on a plane way above the gross-grained Honda Pilot and the spotty Toyota Highlander. The new Jeep Grand Cherokee comes close to the Explorer's virtuosity, the Dodge Durango, a little closer even--but the Explorer's nifty blend of LCD gauges and screens, those exclamation points of metallic plastic on the center stack, and the tight fits between lots of dissimilar pieces, make the cabin exceptional.