I have been barraged by people wanting my thoughts on the new Ford Explorer, the first huge change in Explorer since it debuted in 1992. Being accused occasionally of having a Ford bias, I tended to look at the new Explorer more critically than I do most vehicles.
It is amazing how unlike an Explorer this Explorer is. The 2011 Ford Explorer kicked off a change in America’s desire to get rid of vans and station wagons and arguably made SUVs what they are today. Ford clearly threw all that out the window to start over with a completely clean sheet of paper, and answered those critics who complained the Explorer had a harsh ride. This new Explorer is actually a crossover SUV, meaning it is based on a car chassis, which gives you a much better ride.
Explorer in a few words: The new standard for crossovers with 3rd row seats.
Although it is hard to imagine any Explorer without a V8 option, Ford wisely chose the 3.5-liter V6 as the base engine. With that comes a 6-speed automatic transmission, the combo produces 290-horsepower, which is as good as the old V8 Ford used. More importantly, the V6 is 32% more fuel-efficient than the old V8. It is amazing to think of this new engine giving you the same horsepower and a third better fuel economy. Next year, a 4-cylinder Ecoboost will be offered for even better fuel economy.
So given that it is a car chassis and a six cylinder engine, do you give up all the towing capacity? Actually no, much to my surprise the vehicle is rated to tow 5000 pounds. Most crossovers come in at around 3500 pounds, so Ford found a way to make it all work.
For those needing off-road capability, the Explorer does well there too-which is also unusual for a crossover SUV. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a Jeep by any stretch, but for the occasional driver who needs to go off-road or encounters rough weather, it will certainly do the job and do it quite well. Explorer was designed with a full 8″ ground clearance.
My evaluation vehicle is the Limited Model which means it is very nicely equipped. It has a wonderful interior with smart two-tone leather. Like most of the new Fords coming out these days, the floorboard seems lower than most vehicles and it has a large center console with lots of storage room. The vehicle makes an impression the moment you open the door.
Explorer features MyFord Touch, which replaces traditional audio and climate controls with touch screens and voice activation. It also incorporates the company’s Sync cell phone and digital-music player control. Rear-obstacle detection is standard on the XLT and Limited. Power-adjustable pedals, driver-seat memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, remote engine start, and keyless entry/engine start are standard on the Limited. No matter which model you choose, the list of standard equipment is impressive. There is no such thing as a stripped-down Explorer for 2011.
As I write this review, Consumer Reports comes out and says the electronic controls on the Explorer and Edge are a distraction. They are speaking primarily of the MyFord Touch system. ONCE AGAIN, Consumer Reports proves my point that if they say something about a car it’s probably wrong. The MyFord Touch system, once you get past a small learning curve, does just the opposite of what this magazine says. Either they were not smart enough to figure it out or they didn’t take the time. Either way, this is an injustice…just ask ANYBODY who has the system in their Ford.
With the third row seats down, the vehicle has a huge cargo area. With the third row seats up, it’s limited. But the operation of the seats is terrific, all done with the push of a button. You can make either half of the third row seats disappear in a matter of seconds.
The exterior of the Explorer went from square with the 2010 to much more modern and aerodynamic with this new edition. Available 20″ wheels set the vehicle off and I have had more comments on this vehicle being pretty, sharp, good-looking, than any SUV I have been in since 2007.
Driving impressions are wonderful. The ride quality is amazing and you are struck by this AND how quiet it is. Even passengers I have had in it remark about those two things.
From a safety standpoint, you see a lot of Volvo influence in the new Explorer. You can get HID headlights, Blind spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control with collision warning system, and rain-sensing wipers.
Some standard features on this model that make it special are power liftgate, remote start, Ford’s capless fuel filler, rear camera, 110V built-in power inverter and perhaps my favorite, the ambient lighting that you choose yourself from a wide array of colors.
For those of you who think I have a Ford bias, I want you to know I looked hard for something I did not like just for you! But I didn’t find anything, sorry, I tried.
What I liked most: Ride quality, quietness, interior and exterior appearance.
What I would change if I could: Nothing
MSRP as tested: $45,060
Fuel Economy: 17 in town, 23 highway, and doing every bit of it.