Plaid flannel isn’t popular anymore, so it’s just in time that the 2011 Ford Explorer arrived. The original Ford Explorer, the truck that defined a new market segment for the ’90s. the sport-utility vehicle, had a woodsy, manly aura that made the Explorer “Eddie Bauer”, name after the sportsman’s outfitter, the top trim line. Not anymore.
The new 2011 Ford Explorer is still recognizable as an Explorer. The model has too much residual value among the knotty pine paneling to abandon it altogether. Yet the Explorer profoundly needed an update. The American consumer had wearied of the truckish ride from the truck-framed Explorer, didn’t need 4-wheel low range, and the ear-flap hunter’s cap styling wasn’t even fashionable for hunters, much less people who wanted to share the aura.
The 2011 Ford Explorer couldn’t have come closer to the new market bulls eye if it had been that hunter’s best shot. It’s instantly recognizable as an Explorer, and not just to owners of the last generation of Explorer owners. However, if Ford is worried about losing owners to other makes, any concern is unwarranted, at least if the reaction our test 2011 Explorer Limited is any measure. We could have sold it several times over.
The new Explorer is based on the Ford’s multi-use platform that rides under everything from the Ford Taurus to the Lincoln MKX, though substantially modified for genuine off-road use. It has the two box shape of the traditional SUV but more sophisticated, with softened corners and tapered lines rather that, well, two boxes. Ford neatly adopted the perforated horizontal bars used in its car lineup and the taillights would look at home on any automobile.
The interior of our test Explorer Limited can only be described as sumptuous. “Pecan” perforated leather combines with charcoal trim on the seats–our tester had the luxury seating package–and on the dash and other interior surfaces. The center stack is flanked by bright flares, most likely of plastic but neatly holding either side of the large touchscreen display.
The speedometer, centered on the instrument panel has color LCD miniscreens on either side, as first appeared on Ford Fusion Hybrid and later Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. And like those screens, the ones in the Ford Explorer are reconfigurable, with a choice of items displayed…or not displayed at all.
The large center screen is used for a surprising number of functions and is profoundly complete. Learning where everything is will take time but with the sheer amount of stuff going on makes a copilot a good idea. Even then, accurate finger touches are needed and attempts to steady our aim with the screen frame often resulted in turning on the four-way flashers because Ford put the button in exactly the wrong spot.
Our test 2011 Ford Explorer Limited had the voice activated navigation system. It look us long enough to master all of the functions manually. We’ll have to learn Ford’s voice system on another test. Ford’s four-way thumb controllers on the steering wheel spokes, however, help the driver navigate around the screen and will become as second nature as a computer mouse is to most people now.
One seemingly trivial but welcome feature was the ability to turn off the intelligent part of the intelligent cruise control. Turn it off and the vehicle isn’t slowing down every four minutes as its radar finds another car out ahead, the driver supplying the intelligence. The system defaults to the so-called intelligent mode at every startup, lawyer proofing the system, but we like the tradeoff.
The optional backup camera is comment worthy as well. The size and the brightness of the screen made this one of the easiest to use.
The second row seating is roomy and although knee room is on the close side, generous toe room under the front seat makes long drives more comfortable. The third row, however, is best left for the kinder. Access is tight and the knees up seating would mean that a Scotsman and his kilt would have no secrets.
The power third row seat in our test Explorer folded the snugly into a well that increased cargo capacity with the third row in use. With the second row seatback folded forward, the Explorer has a completely flat cargo floor, great for carrying large boxes or just sliding cargo all the way to the front.
The ride is luxury car soft and road noise obvious by its absence. Handling is confident, but one can also be confident that corners can’t be taken too swiftly. The 2011 Ford Explorer, no matter how much more carlike, still has a tall center of gravity. But it’s never spooky. The Explorer just sets its limits and asks the driver to live by them.
The 2011 Ford Explorer breaks with precedence by having nominal front-wheel drive, though our test Explorer had all-wheel drive. Considering the amount of power and torque from the 3.5-liter Ecoboost V-6, the Explorer needs all the traction it can get. EcoBoost, which combines direct injection and turbocharging, results in a healthy 290 horsepower that moves even the 4,695 pounds of Ford crossover quite smartly and does so with a robust roar that fades away when cruising. The standard six-speed automatic is smooth shifting and almost too elegant for a truck. But then, the 2011 Ford Explorer isn’t a truck, it’s a crossover SUV with the emphasis on crossover.
The Explorer is dead; long live the Ford Explorer. Give those flannel plaids to the Salvation Army. You can still shop the outdoor stores. It’s just time for an fashion upgrade. After all, Ford did it with the Explorer. You can do it too.
2011 Ford Explorer Limited AWD, price and key specifications, as tested
Base price: $37,190
10-way power/heated driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, aux rear climate control, Sync, premium audio by Sony, tilt/tele steering wheel, ambient lighting, reverse sensing and rear view camera, MyKey, remote start, 110v power inverter: std
Rapid Spec 302-A Limited, voice activated navigation system, luxury seating, powerfold third row seat, power liftgate, active park assist, adaptive cruise/collision warning, rain sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, HID projector headlights: $4,810
White Platinum Metallic tri-coat paint: N/C
Trailer tow package: N/C
Body style/layout: 5-door crossover SUV, front engine/all-wheel drive
- Type: 3.5-liter 25-valve DOHC V-6
- Displacement, cc: 3,497
- Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
- Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6500 rpm
- Torque: 255 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
- Recommended fuel: 91-octane premium unleaded
- Fuel economy, EPA est.: 17/23 mpg city/highway
- Fuel economy, observed: 17.3 mpg
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Suspension, front/rear: Short/long arm / multi-link
- Wheels: 20-inch polished aluminum
- Tires: 255/50R20
- Brakes: 4-wheel disc
- Steering: electric rack-and-pinion
- Turning circle: N/A
- Wheelbase: 112.6 in.
- Length: 197.1 in.
- Height: 71.0 in.
- Width: 90.0 in. (incl. mirrors)
- Curb weight: 4,695 lbs
- Trunk volume, min/max: N/A / 80.5 cu. ft.
- Fuel tank: 18.6 gal.
Warranty: 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain; 4-year/3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper; 3-year/36,000 mile maintenance program
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