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    The 2011 Ford Explorer. Click on the above image for more photos (Ford).

    by: Rex Roy | AOL Autos
     

    Remember all the doomsaying that surrounded Y2K? People at Ford Motor Company recall it too, except that in their case the 21st Century delivered all the grief that wasn’t forthcoming to the rest of us. In May of 2000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a safety investigation into the Ford Explorer, in the very same year that Ford reported record sales of its best-selling SUV, a whopping 445,157 units. When NHTSA dug in, it found that certain Firestone tires experienced a statistically higher rate of failure when installed on Explorers. These blowouts led to an estimated 150 deaths due to crashes and rollovers.

    Ford became enmeshed in countless lawsuits over the issue, and the situation became a true public relations nightmare. The reputation of the Explorer was harmed, even as Ford switched tire suppliers, redesigned the vehicle and added safety equipment like stability control. But Explorer sales lagged, and along with a general downturn in sales of large SUV’s, some people still questioned whether the Explorer could be trusted.

    Wiping The Slate Clean

    A decade later, Ford is in the process of introducing it's all-new 2011 Explorer. This new, seven-passenger model, due in dealerships this winter, couldn't be more different from the Explorers that preceded it.

    With sales of truck-based, body-on-frame SUV's now accounting for only single-digit market share, Ford wisely made the new Explorer a unibody vehicle, akin to the crossover class that’s currently the most popular thing going in auto sales. Over this new, car-based Explorer, Ford layered on safety features like phyllo dough in baklava. In other words, don't expect the new Explorer to make headlines for behaving badly.

    Naturally More Resistant To Rollovers

    Generally, car-based vehicles are more stable than traditional truck-based SUVs because they have lower centers of gravity. Vehicles made with unitized bodies -- as opposed to body-on-frame designs -- ride lower, making them tougher to flip over. This is certainly the case when comparing the 2010 model to the new 2011 Explorer. The new unibody model rides about two inches lower, as well as being nearly five inches wider and three inches longer. If you're looking for improved stability, lower, wider and longer is better.

    The 2011 Ford Explorer. Click on the above image for more photos (Ford).

    The Explorer shares some of its underbody components with the Ford Taurus and Ford Flex. Even though it is car-based, Ford engineers knew the Explorer still needed to be an SUV that’s tough enough to do things like towing and driving off-road, so much of this stuff has been significantly strengthened. A spokesperson told us that the Explorer still had to pass Ford's truck durability test regimen because the company considers the vehicle an SUV and not a crossover.

    Electronics Deliver More Dynamic Control

    Tests of the old Explorer following the NHTSA investigation highlighted the role driver error may have played in some of the rollover incidents. Because taller SUVs are fundamentally more prone to rolling, it takes more skill to safely control one during an emergency maneuver.

    Ford recognized this truth and added stability control to its SUVs in 2002 as an option, and made it standard in 2005. The system included the ability to sense and help prevent the onset of a roll over. Electronic sensors detect when the vehicle is in trouble, and then jump into action to do what is necessary to keep the vehicle under control. Engine power can be reduced while individual wheel brakes can be precisely activated to pull the SUV back in line.

    The 2011 Explorer debuts a new stability-enhancing feature called Curve Control. Building on the capabilities of AdvanceTrac stability control, Curve Control can sense when a driver enters a curve too quickly and then automatically apply the brakes to slow the vehicle up to 10 mph in just one second. Ford engineers told us that this can make the difference between the driver making it around a corner -- or taking an unplanned off-road excursion that ends with a trip to the hospital.

    Another new electronically enhanced safety feature is the optional collision warning system. When the optional forward-facing radar (used for the automatic cruise control) detects something in the vehicle’s path, it signals a visual and audible warning. Then, anticipating the driver's next move, as the driver releases pressure on the accelerator pedal to slow down, the brakes will automatically engage to begin slowing the Explorer. This can dramatically reduce emergency stopping distances. As for how it feels in action, we'll let you know after we have an opportunity to test it ourselves.

    The 2011 Ford Explorer features inflatable rear safety belts. Click on the above image for more photos (Ford).

    Inflatable Rear Safety Belts

    Ford also added an important new passive safety feature to the 2011 Explorer's option list: Inflatable rear safety belts. The new bag-in-belt system supplements the full complement of airbags already standard in the Explorer, including a three-row canopy bag designed to be effective in side impacts and rollover events.

    The new inflatable safety belts help protect those in the second-row outboard seats. Upon impact, the rear belts incorporate airbags that help to spread the deceleration load on the occupant over a larger surface area of the body. This helps to reduce the opportunity of serious injury.

    Driving Away From Distraction

    There's no question that the devices drivers bring into a vehicle can distract them from what's happening on the road. Regardless, there seems to be no stopping drivers from using phones and MP3 players on the road, so Ford attacked the problem head on.

    The optional MyFord Touch system attempts to make a driver's interaction with their devices less distracting. The system automatically pairs with known phones, and MP3 devices can tie into the system using a USB cable or a wireless Bluetooth link. Once the connections are set, drivers can make phone calls or cue up specific music selections using simple voice commands or by using buttons on the steering wheel.

    Going beyond offering voice commands, the MyFord Touch system provides five-button controllers for those who find talking to their car silly. Navigating the simple menus on the bright LCD panel set into the instrument panel is easy. If equipped, even more details and choices are shown on the eight-inch LCD touch screen used for the navigation system.

    Explaining all of the functions Ford designed into the MyFord Touch system would require its own article, but highlights include being able to receive driving directions from MapQuest and Google Maps, and tagging broadcast songs for later purchase in iTunes. (If you don't understand why this is cool, ask your teenager.)

    An Expert Opinion

    Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) weighed in on the Explorer, "You know, it's actually a popular misconception that the third-generation Ford Explorers [2002-2005 model years] were more prone to rollovers than other SUVs. Back during the Firestone episode we looked into that, and the four-door Explorers of that vintage were actually less likely to roll over than many other contemporary SUVs."  

    When asked about how the 2011 Explorer might compare to earlier models, Rader said, "Ford has been aiming high on safety. Several models, including the new Taurus, Ford Flex, and Lincoln MKT are related to the 2011 Explorer and are IIHS Top Safety Picks, our highest rating. We can't state for sure how the new Explorer will perform, but the performance of these other models should be a good indicator of how the Explorer will fare."

    Explorer Safety
    Has the Explorer's safety reputation been redeemed?

    While the new Taurus, Flex and Lincoln MKT scored "Good" in each IIHS test, the previous-generation Explorer earned a rating of "Good" only for the front-impact collision test. In side- and rear-impact tests, it managed a rating of "Acceptable."

    Beyond Safety

    There's more to the 2011 Explorer than just safety. Two new powertrains prove that Ford’s dramatically different approach goes more than skin deep. Ford's corporate 3.5-liter V6 is standard, and with a healthy 290 horsepower (almost as much as the 2010 Explorer with a 4.6-liter V-8), the new Explorer is rated to tow 5,000 pounds. The all-wheel-drive system's Terrain Management system promises to offer true off-road capabilities, as well.

    The optional engine for the 4,400-pound Explorer is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Fortified with direct injection and a single turbocharger, this EcoBoost engine produces an impressive 237 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. That’s 27 more horsepower than last year's 4.0-liter V6, and the kicker is that Ford promises it will achieve EPA numbers similar to a six-cylinder Toyota Camry. Although official EPA results are not yet available for the Explorer, the Camry gets 23 miles per gallon combined.

    While comparisons to the Camry may seem ironic, given its own tarnished reputation as of late, what’s clear is that the Explorer has evolved. We’ll have to wait to see whether public perception of this redesigned SUV will change in turn.

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    1 - 20 of 80 Comments
    DevAutos Sep 03, 2010 12:51 PM
    ford explorer is the car that killed more people in history.
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    pastorcjjack Aug 14, 2010 4:45 PM
    I'm liking it, the 2011 Ford Explorer it's nicesssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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    gtcmg Aug 13, 2010 8:31 PM
    My 02 Explorer is the best vehicle on the road. The V8/ 6speed climbs mountains, handles great in curves and tows my boat. It also looks classy and is the right size around town. Unfortunately, I'd like another one just like it, not a V6 crossover . I'm not ruling this "new" one out til I try it, but they'll have a hard time convincing me it could be better.
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    lechevalc1 Aug 13, 2010 3:40 PM
    As far as I am concerned. People should start taking responsibility for their own driving, and not blame the manufacturer of vehicles, tires. whatever. We could not rent a U Haul trailer, because we drove an explorer. I drove that same explorer from Michigan to Alberta 2 years ago with a horse trailer, with a young horse in it. Live weight is more unstable than packed boxes, believe me, I have done both. I drove sensibly, and through rush hour Chicago traffic, as well as rain storms. No problem. Why does every one want to blame some one else for their stupidity and mistakes? So they can get rich by sueing. Grow up, as the joke says it is the nut behind the wheel that is causing the problem Pauline
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    ddeville98 Aug 11, 2010 9:42 AM
    when are forign car cheerleaders going to admit they have been fooled by the PR claims of import car makers? they don,t have the cars to back up the hype, every auto brand has defects the good ones address the problems and improve the bad ones hope you buy into the PR B.S. that their's are somehow better we should all start thinking about how buying forign autos hurts the USA the same people complaining about trade deficits and the domestic economy should try buying AMERICAN
    Report This
    alex330i Aug 10, 2010 12:11 AM
    Wow it took a resection to finally care about putting some kind of style to your Ford cars. Sorry all of this (style and safety) was not necessary when you weren't hurting for sales. Oops people finally woke up and saw the benefits of overseas cars. Over the pond they have been doing "saftey" for the last 20 years or so, besides all your platforms that are worth anything are made overseas anyway! wtf.
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    lafm2005 Aug 09, 2010 10:57 PM
    Another home run ! Fusion, Edge, Mustang, Taurus, Fiesta................and now the new Explorer. Ford ************* home runs. Another beautifully designed vehicle. Clearly now the industry leader in every segment.
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    wmathess Aug 06, 2010 10:27 AM
    I'm just glad to see a new Explorer. Whether it's still an truck-based SUV or a crossover. Ever since 2004 Ford Explorers have been JUNK! And you can't deny me. Differential failure, transmission slipping, transmission failure, transmission clunking, engine failure, engine fire, cracked rear hatch panel. My dad had a 2004. He sold it last week and got a new Ford F-350. I told him ever since I was a kid that he should be buying trucks. Well, he never listened and he was paying the price before now!
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    smelsts Aug 06, 2010 5:56 AM
    The so called rollovers were because the Explorer's suspension wasnt aligned right and combined with the underinflation of the Firestone tires, the tires would potato peeled from the inside and thus the rollovers. I worked for Firestones Air Ride division and we had the suspension tested. What Ford did was with the American Govt's approval, was to blame Firestone ( Bridgestone ) and make them recall the tires and replace them. Behind the scenes was Ford reimbursing Firestone for the tires and Ford sent out free oil change coupons to be used at Ford dealerships. What the public doesnt know was while their Explorer was getting the free oil change a metal support was welded in the suspension to keep it from flexing and cutting the tires from the inside. Firestone and Ford have been intertwined since the day when Harvey Firestone's daughter married Henry Fords son way back when. The US has always covered up and bailed out American car companies and are quick to hammer companies like Toyota because of the foriegn ownership. Now you know the real story on the rollovers and the tire recalled during the time frame..have a nice day
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    nahas4ever Aug 06, 2010 5:19 AM
    hello all am so happ to see the car new and am love Ford car and am love all motorola Mobiles in the worled
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    waynestate Aug 06, 2010 5:11 AM
    I can't see why any of you think the car is new. All it is a slightly re-styled version of the Freestyle/Taurus X!
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    richardajarman Aug 06, 2010 4:09 AM
    Sorry about sounding the "reality bell of recent experiences" but Ford still sucks in quality regardless of their pathetic advertising to the opposite verses Honda. I've ridden multiple times in very new Fords and still nobody can explain why they ride like lumber wagons about to lose their tires. The new Mustang? Disturbing junk with no true focus on longevity. I suggest Ford begins to actually build something which has a shelf life before they continue making their own personal version of Pacificas. Even better to prove my point, just ride in a comparable Honda and prepare to be perplexed with Ford's foolish claim to improved quality. No matter how many times a dellusion is repeated, it never becomes truth when tested in the real world.
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    milethiefz Aug 06, 2010 4:00 AM
    Wow! I like the airbag seatbelt idea. Always thinking safety. That's what I like about Ford. You don't see Toyota doing anything innovative with safety. Oh wait, they did, they hired former government officials to cover up their mistakes.
    Report This
    viridiannow Aug 06, 2010 3:52 AM
    What a nice truck. Cant wait to drive it and buy it. Nice work Ford.
    Report This
    dnbboy76 Aug 06, 2010 3:36 AM
    Just another piece of American Garbage!!! Buy Honda or Nissan.....
    Report This
    lucylka Aug 06, 2010 3:31 AM
    I love this , So does My boyfriend .he is almost 11year older than me .i met him via A ge Mi ngl e . C' 0- M
    Report This
    beerazer Aug 06, 2010 3:08 AM
    I have a 1999 explorer with 147,000 miles on it. I do standard fluid changes and breaks and have never had any problems. I use the four-wheel drive every so often and feel totally safe. I love my explorer and after it hits 300,000 miles, i guess I will get a new one.
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    sixcarbsx2 Aug 06, 2010 2:59 AM
    Problem is........its still a Ford and it looks like the a larger Flex.
    Report This
    howde2u Aug 06, 2010 2:24 AM
    If the price tag for the new Explorer is over *********** to much. I use to like Ford when they were affordable.
    Report This
    lee1942 Aug 06, 2010 2:10 AM
    I have owned 7 new explorers over the last 20 years, including a 2005 Sports Trac (54,000 miles). My first a 1990 put .97,000 miles on it in 3 years had replace altenator @ 93,000. Drove most other 30,000 mile each, never had any problems. Mechanical or other wise. I have 53,000 on my 2006 that I am driving now, Ford did replace transmission. The small V8 is great. I have pulled 22' and 25' RV trailers all over the west never had any trouble. Most the miles were high speed freeway. I don't think I'll buy another as I had planned before change of 2011. I will get 100,000 extened warrantee most likely. Lee Las Vegas
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    Over this new, car-based 2011 Explorer, Ford has layered on safety features like phyllo dough in baklava.
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