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2011 Ford Explorer Changes The Game

Posted in Automotive Event, Car Buying, Design, Detroit, Ford, General, New Cars, SUV by Kurt Ernst | July 27th, 2010 | 13 Responses |

2011 Ford Explorer

Scientists speculate that the surface temperature of the sun is about 9,941 degrees Fahrenheit. Miami Beach in July is about ten degrees cooler, but with much higher humidity and fewer parking spots. Despite this, I soldiered on to bring you an update and pics of the new 2011 Ford Explorer.

2011 Ford Explorer

2011 Ford Explorer

2011 Ford Explorer

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the new Explorer. Since I’m a “glass half empty” kind of guy, I’ll start with the bad news: the 2011 Ford Explorer is not a truck, and you won’t be driving one across the Rubicon Trail. Gone is the body on frame construction, replaced by the strongest unibody that Ford has ever built. It’s based on Ford’s “D” platform, which is also used to build the Taurus, but it is beefed up for use in the Explorer. If you’re one of the extreme minority who lifted their old Explorers and used them for hard-core, back country exploration, you’re not going to like the new model.

2011 Ford Explorer

Ford's Terrain Management system

Now the good news: for 99% of the people shopping for a mid-size SUV, the new Ford Explorer is an out-of-the-park home run. Let’s start with off-road capabilities: Ford’s on-the-fly 4wd, with it’s electronic Terrain Management System, will be more than capable of handling beach duty, fire road duty and light off-roading. The biggest limitations I could see are ground clearance and wheel articulation, which preclude any ideas of rock-crawling. That said, it will handle conditions experienced by the vast majority of Explorer buyers with absolutely no issue.

2011 Ford Explorer

Switchgear design was done in Europe, targeting Audi.

Interior shot, courtesy of Ford.

2011 Ford Explorer

My Touch & Synch infortainment system

More good news is the quality of the interior. Though no one from Ford admitted to it, it’s clear that their benchmark wasn’t anything from GM or Chrysler; instead, the new Ford Explorer seems to be aimed squarely at Land Rover for interior comfort and quality. The switchgear used in the Explorer is world class, and was actually designed using Audi as a benchmark. I’ll cover Ford’s My Touch, Synch and Voice Recognition systems in detail in another post, but let’s say this: no other automaker on the planet has focused as much attention on the driver / automobile interface as Ford, and the amount of technology in the new Explorer is astonishing, especially considering the starting price of just over $28k.

Exterior styling is a love / hate thing. I know Mike isn’t fond of it, but I actually like it quite a bit. It looks like a larger version of Ford’s Freestyle / Taurus X, a station wagon whose lines I always admired. It doesn’t look like a truck, and the low, wide stance gives it a sporty appearance despite the Explorer’s overall dimensions. The new Explorer is some 100 pounds lighter than the model it replaces, which helps it achieve the 30% better fuel mileage quoted by Ford for the EcoBoost motor (actual EPA numbers are still pending).

The 3.5 liter V6 is standard

Two motors will be offered when the Explorer is launched later this year. The base motor is a 3.5 liter V6, rated at 290 horsepower and 255 foot pounds of torque. Buyers who want the best fuel economy and don’t need 4wd can opt for the 2.0 liter EcoBoost four cylinder, rated at 237 horsepower and 250 foot pounds of torque. Both motors are paired with a six speed automatic transmission, and 2wd Explorer models now power the front wheels, not the rear. Explorers with the V6 have a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, and Ford’s optional towing package includes trailer sway control and trailer brake wiring; a rear view camera, to aid in hitching a trailer, is also available.

Ford is doing away with co-branding of the Explorer, so you won’t be seeing any more “Eddie Bauer” edition Explorers. Instead, Ford is focusing on their own brand, and will release the 2011 Explorer in Base, XLT and Limited versions. Given their recent market success, I think this makes a lot of sense.

Third row seating gives the Explorer 7 passenger capability.

Third row folds at the push of a button

Changing configuration doesn't get easier than this.

So what do I think? First, I like the styling of the new Explorer and I love the content for the price. It truly feels like an upscale SUV, but you won’t be paying Lexus prices to put one in the garage. The Explorer starts at $28,190 for the base model, goes to $31,190 for an XLT and to $37,190 for a Limited. Ford did a lot of research with Explorer owners before setting out to design the new model, and it’s capabilities were set by current and past owners. Is it a hit with everyone? No, but Ford doesn’t care. They know their market and their customer, and I can guarantee they’ll sell the hell out the new Explorer when it hits showrooms. If you don’t already own FoMoCo stock, now is a REAL good time to consider buying in.

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