2011 Ford Explorer Review

2011 Ford Explorer - Ford offers a deftly redesigned Explorer SUV.


The Ford Explorer dominated the SUV market in the 1990s, but lost most of its ground by the middle of  this decade. The redesigned carlike 2011 model may make it popular again.

The new three-row Explorer is larger, but lighter. It shares underpinnings with the Ford Taurus and Flex and trades its rear-drive layout for front-drive, while its trucklike body-on-frame construction gives way to a unit-body platform. Four-wheel drive continues to be available.

The old Explorer's trucky dynamics are gone. So is the V-8, replaced by a 3.5-liter V-6 that generates 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. It works with a responsive six-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually. There are lowered initial gears for better off-the-line acceleration and higher gearing for better efficiency at lower engine rpm when cruising.

The new Explorer is fast off the line. It does 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, besides providing quick 65-75 mph passing. This also is an easy high-speed highway cruiser.

Estimated fuel economy is 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on highways with two-wheel drive and 17 and 23 with a four-wheel drive system that's said to be similar to the system in Range Rovers.

Coming later this year is Ford's turbocharged 2-liter EcoBoost engine with 237 horsepower and almost as much torque as that delivered by the V-6. The automaker says no fuel economy figures are available for it yet.   

The four-wheel-drive system has easily used driver selectable Normal, Mud, Sand and Snow settings, besides Hill Descent Control for descending steep inclines.

I found that the four-wheel-drive Explorer has exceptional off-road abilities at Ford's Michigan Romeo Proving Grounds. It easily handled punishing, muddy off-road terrain that almost made me think twice about tackling such rough stuff. And it deftly made its way down an incline that looked as if it would put it on its roof.

Trim levels for the Chicago-made Explorer V-6 are Base, XLT and Limited. List prices range from $28,190 to $39,190, excluding an $805 freight charge.

Base model items include cruise control, tilt/telescoping wheel and power door locks and windows with a one-touch-down feature for the driver. The XLT adds such items as heated side mirrors with LED signal indicators and a reverse sensing system.

The top-dog Limited has adjustable pedals, dual-zone electronic temperature control, rearview camera, remote-start system with an engine start/stop button and MyFord Touchdriver connect technology.

All versions are packed with safety features. They include the industry's first inflatable seat belts for second-row occupants. Such folks often are children or older adults more vulnerable to head, chest and neck injuries. The inflatable belts spread impact forces across more area than conventional ones. Ford says they're also more comfortables.

The Explorer's stiff unibody structure, which allows a road noise reduction, is accompanied by a suite of active and passive safety features and technologies. Besides the usual regular and side curtain air bags, the Explorer has an advanced Curve control system. It senses when a driver enters a turn too quickly and applies brake pressure to stabilize the vehicle.     
The electric power steering is precise, but somewhat heavy. A definite plus is the Explorer's turning diameter, which is tighter for better maneuvering. Optional active park assist technology scans for a suitable spot, calculates the trajectory and steers the Explorer. The driver continues to control brake and throttle inputs, but the system steers the vehicle throughout the parking maneuver.

Other extras include a powerfold third seat that looks so magical it must be seen to be fully appreciated, a dual-panel moonroof, power tailgate, adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled front seats, voice-activated navigation and a handy blind spot monitor system.  

But desirable options cause prices to rapidly escalate. The bottom line price of a Limited I tested jumped from $39,190 to $43,850, excluding the $850 freight charge, and it didn't have some key (spell costly) options..

The new Explorer nearly rides like a big car, although it almost drives like a smaller one. The brakes felt touchy when cold on a test Explorer Limited, but there was no such reaction after a mile or so of driving..

The Explorer isn't very hard to enter or leave. Occupants sit high, and the front ones face a huge windshield.-fortunately accompanied  by big sun visors. Gauges can be easily read, but the console shifter gets in the way when a driver uses one of the deep dual cupholders. A nice touch in an Explorer Limited was lit red rings around the rims of the front cupholders so they can easily be seen at night.

The quiet interior is a high point, being swatched in rich-looking, soft-touch materials  Front seats offer nice support, although more lateral support for the upper back would be appreciated. As with the exterior, interior fit and finish of my test Explorers was flawless.

There are a good number of interior storage areas, including door pockets and a deep, covered front console bin.

While front room is good,  a 6-footer in the second row will find leg space rather tight behind the driver. There's no such problem on the second-row passenger side, and even the middle of the second-row seat is fairly comfortable. But the third row is best left to children, supple teens or shorter adults.

The deep cargo area is fairly roomy, even with the third-row seat in its normal upright position. It greatly increases the cargo area when folded forward.

The new Explorer is so upscale that I  didn't expect to find an old-fashioned hood prop rod, instead of hydraulic struts.

With new vehicles such as the Explorer, Ford should continue to be on a roll.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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