2011 Ford Explorer
    MSRP
    $37,535
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    2011 Ford Explorer Expert Review:Autoblog

    Wait 'Till They Get A Load Of This

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited - Click above for high-res image gallery

    They call it a reboot. It happens all the time in Hollywood when a movie franchise falls flat. After a blockbuster wears out its audience with a string of lesser sequels, the studio starts over, retelling the story from an entirely new angle.

    The best example is Batman. The combination of Michael Keaton and director Tim Burton produced critical acclaim and big box office numbers for the first two Caped Crusader films in 1989 and 1992. Then came a new director, Joel Schumacher, who just about killed the franchise with Batman Forever in 1995 and Batman & Robin in 1997. Eight years passed before someone in Hollywood realized the Dark Knight's name could still fill theater seats, and the franchise was rebooted in 2005 with the dark and gritty Batman Begins.

    The totally redesigned 2011 Ford Explorer is the Blue Oval's Batman Begins. Ford's most famous sport utility vehicle has desperately needed a reboot ever since the Firestone tire recall in 2000 made it Rollover Enemy Number One. Rising gas prices haven't helped either, but the tire debacle hurt the brand badly, with the Explorer going from this country's third best-selling vehicle in 2000 with 445,157 sold to just over 60,000 bought in 2010. But just like Batman, the Explorer name had value that Ford couldn't let go to waste. And so the 2011 Explorer is the sport utility story retold by Ford from an entirely new angle. The question is whether or not the Explorer's name can still put butts in seats.

    Continue reading...



    Photos copyright ©2011 John Neff / AOL



    The new SUV story that Ford is telling is truly different from the original because the new Explorer isn't an SUV at all – it's a crossover utility vehicle. Whereas prior Explorers could trace their lineage all the way back to the body-on-frame Ranger pickup, the new Explorer uses a unibody platform derived from Volvo and Ford sedans, albeit heavily modified to withstand some light off-roading.

    Underneath its skin, the 2011 model is most closely related to Ford's other three-row crossovers, the Flex and Lincoln MKT, and it's now being built alongside Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedans at Ford's Chicago Assembly plant. The curious thing is that the Explorer is still called an SUV in Ford's new story. Despite it technically being a crossover, the Explorer gets lumped in with the Expedition and Escape (also technically a crossover) in Ford's portfolio of SUVs. The Edge and Flex, meanwhile, are Ford's official CUVs.

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited side view2011 Ford Explorer Limited front view2011 Ford Explorer Limited rear view

    What the new Explorer looks like, however, is a Taurus station wagon with a lift kit. Many of the Explorer's new design cues are lifted straight from Ford's large sedan, like its Remington shaver grille sporting a familiar pair of perforated crossbars. The two vehicles also share some surface sculpting, which is most evident on the sides where both feature the same indented door panels and dimpled sheetmetal behind the rear wheels. Ford designers haven't totally broken with the past, however, as some original Explorer elements remain. The B- and D-pillars, for instance, are blacked-out just like they've been on every Explorer since 1991. Ford's designers also made the new Explorer's A-pillar disappear, which further reduces visual bulk and makes the roof look like it's balancing on the strong, thick C-pillars.

    Dimensionally, the new Explorer is similar to the one it replaces – a little smaller here, a little bigger there. It's longer, lower and significantly wider than the 2010 model and has more headroom for all passengers. There's a little less legroom for the driver, front passenger and people riding in the very back, but passengers in the middle seats are treated to almost three more inches of legroom. And while overall cargo capacity with all of the seats folded and/or stowed is down from 84 cubic feet to 81, the new model's extra inches of length were put to good use behind the third row of seats, where luggage space has grown from 14 to 21 cubic feet.

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited interior2011 Ford Explorer Limited front seats2011 Ford Explorer Limited third row2011 Ford Explorer Limited rear cargo area

    Our Limited 4WD tester proved to be comfortably roomy for passengers sitting up front and in the second row of seats, the latter of which were optional dual buckets ($750) with a second-row console ($100). While they do sacrifice a seat compared to the standard 60/40 split bench, the buckets make the third row less claustrophobic and give passengers in the way-back some extra knee room for their inboard legs. It's still not as comfortable as a minivan's most aft seating, but the Explorer's third row is one of the most comfortable in its class.

    Our tester also came equipped with the top shelf Rapid Spec 302A package ($4,810) that, in addition to such niceties as Active Park Assist (useful in a vehicle this size), Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitoring System, rain sensing wipers, HID projector headlamps, a power liftgate, luxury seating package (heated, cooled, 10-way adjustable front seats) and voice-activated navigation with SIRIUS Travel Link, included an impressive power-folding 50/50 split third row. Check it out in the Autoblog Short Cuts video below.


    Being the most expensive model with all-wheel drive and all the trimmings, this Explorer's $44,610 price tag ($39,190 base MSRP) did include Ford's controversial MyFord Touch system. We say 'controversial' because it's a love-it-or-hate-it infotainment system. You either love it for its forward-thinking user interface, excellent graphics and industry-leading features, or you hate it because it's a distraction, difficult to learn and slow to respond to inputs. Consumer Reports doesn't like it very much and the Autoblog team is split down the middle, though we universally dislike the stereo and climate controls that come with the separate upgraded Sony sound system.

    In addition to nice things like a rear subwoofer, 12 speakers and 390 watts of power, the Sony system also replaces the lower part of your center dash with a completely smooth, glossy black panel of touch sensitive controls for the climate system and a single rotary knob for the stereo controls. With no contours, it's very difficult to perform simple tasks like finding the controls to change fan speed or turning on the rear defroster. Unfortunately, the Sony system is standard on Limited models.

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited MyFord Touch2011 Ford Explorer Limited Sony stereo system

    What's also standard is Ford's 3.5-liter TiVCT V6 engine. It's the only drivetrain available at launch, though will soon be joined by a high-tech 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder. For now, however, the 3.5-liter is all one needs thanks to respectable power figures like 290 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 255 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. The EcoBoost four-cylinder will have less power (237 hp at 5,500 rpm and 250 lb.-ft. from 1,750 rpm), but should easily beat the 3.5-liter's EPA fuel economy figures of 17 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway and 19 combined. Not opting for all-wheel drive will improve those numbers to 17 city, 25 highway and 20 combined, though we managed to achieve an average of 20.4 mpg over the course of a week with our Explorer Limited 4WD.

    An engine is only as good as the parts to which it's mated, and fortunately the rest of the Explorer's mechanicals are equally up to moving and stopping this 4,752-pound vehicle without drama. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and intelligently, making manual gear selection via the gearshift lever's rocker switch somewhat superfluous. The brakes are confidence-inspiring with a firm pedal feel, addressing one of the long-standing complaints we've had with Ford vehicles on this platform for the last couple of years. And the steering is yet another incremental improvement for Ford's electronic power-assisted rack-and-pinion system, which continues to feel more natural with each iteration. Combined, these elements do their work without being noticed, which is exactly what the busy mom or dad who's behind the wheel wants.

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited engine

    What they also want are class-leading technology and safety features, and Ford is happy to oblige. Our Explorer Limited 4WD featured common items like a blind sport warning system, rear view camera and electronic stability control system with traction control, but also included unique features like the industry's first second-row inflatable seat belts. Next up is Curve Control, a new system that can sense when the driver is taking a turn too fast, as on a highway entrance or exit ramp, and reduce engine torque and independently apply braking to each of the four wheels to keep the Explorer on its intended arc. The most trick piece of new tech, however, and the one which we used the most, was Ford's new Terrain Management system.

    Controlled by a knob right behind the gearshift lever, Terrain Management offers Explorer owners four selectable modes for the all-wheel-drive system: Normal, Mud and Ruts, Sand and Snow. Each of these situation-specific modes will individually adjust the engine, throttle, transmission, traction and stability control systems for that particular environment. We got caught in a nasty snow storm between Detroit and Cleveland while driving the Explorer and were able to at least put Snow mode to the test.

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited Terrain Management System

    We weren't able to feel any of those adjustments from behind the wheel during our hours of driving through inclement weather, which is a credit to the system's calibration, but we know it works if for no other reason than we're still here to write this review. We also noticed that the Explorer could generally accelerate quicker and cruise faster in the snow than the traffic around it, which could have been the Terrain Management's Snow mode doing its job or just our false sense of security from turning a knob on the dash until a snow flake lit up – a real danger for any well-marketed all-wheel-drive system. Terrain Management also includes Hill Descent Control, though we never found a big enough hill in Ohio to test this system's ability to slow down the Explorer with the assist of engine braking.

    What we do have in Ohio is plenty of flat, straight roads on which to evaluate a vehicle's ride, and the Explorer offers a fine compromise between controlled and comfy. The longish 112.6-inch wheelbase, big 20-inch aluminum wheels and general immensity of the Explorer are able by their nature to handle bumps in the road without the vehicle becoming unsettled, while the shocks and springs themselves actually feel firm when being loaded up in a turn. With momentum in all directions under control, the Explorer actually drives like a smaller vehicle, though looking out of that high, expansive hood will never let you forget its size.

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited headlight2011 Ford Explorer Limited grille2011 Ford Explorer Limited wheel2011 Ford Explorer Limited taillight

    Some 20 years after America met the first Explorer, size is the main thing that's holding this latest model back from ever achieving the big box office numbers of its predecessors. That kind of money is reserved for much smaller vehicles these days. In fact, the top ten best-selling vehicles of 2010 included only one utility vehicle, the much smaller Honda CR-V, which nearly slid off the list at number nine. The CR-V sold just over 200,000 units last year, or less than half what the Explorer sold at its height of popularity back in 2000. Clearly, this size vehicle can't be a blockbuster anymore (unless it's got a bed in the back).

    That doesn't mean, however, that the 2011 Ford Explorer can't be a huge success. Batman Begins was a huge success, even though the 1989 original earned a lot more money. Michael Keaton's original cost $48 million to make and earned $411 million worldwide, while the Christian Bale reboot cost $150 million and made $373 million. Nobody would argue the reboot was a bad idea, because that's not what reboots are about. They're about getting back to making a great product, which is exactly what Ford has done with the 2011 Explorer.

    2011 Ford Explorer Limited rear 3/4 view

    Bonus Fun Fact: The original Batman remained the highest grossing caped crusader film until the reboot's sequel, The Dark Knight, arrived in 2008. That film rediscovered the sweet spot with a little help from Heath Ledger's Joker and knocked the first film from its pedestal grossing over one... billion... dollars. If our little analogy holds true, Ford may have the utility vehicle to end all utility vehicles up its sleeve for this new Explorer's encore.



    Photos copyright ©2011 John Neff / AOL

    All-new, reinvented, and better in every respect.

    Introduction

    The 2011 Ford Explorer is not only the beginning of a new generation, but of a new life. Ford calls it 100 percent reinvented, and it's the truth, and it's all good. 

    This reinvention of the venerable Ford Explorer is 4 inches longer, 5 inches wider, and makes the third row standard. Yet it's 100 pounds lighter. Its engine has 80 more horsepower and gets 25 percent better fuel mileage. Its price is $1100 lower than the previous model. 

    The 2011 Explorer pretty much blows its competition out of the water, with first-in-class EPA fuel mileage of 17 city/25 highway miles per gallon, first-in-class horsepower (tied with Jeep Grand Cherokee), first in cargo capacity and second-row legroom. Ford claims 10 segment exclusives, including some in safety, with optional inflatable rear seatbelts ($195) and standard curve control, which applies braking to individual wheels as needed to correct corner trajectory. 

    There are three Explorer models, Base, XLT and Limited. Each seats 7 passengers, and uses the new 3.5-liter V6 engine, 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, with a new 6-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter turbocharged and ballyhooed EcoBoost direct-injection four-cylinder engine will be available later in the year. It has 237 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, gets one more mile per gallon, and likely won't cost any less. 

    The optional 4WD Terrain Management System uses no transfer case. The driver selects the terrain with a knob (Normal, Sand, Mud/Ruts, or Snow/Gravel), and the car does the rest, flawlessly. The system includes Hill Descent Control, which could save your life on an icy street. 

    The Explorer's width is evident in its confident stance spanning a 67-inch track, but its smooth styling cheats the eye. It has beefy but smooth proportions, with short overhangs and fluid lines that are 12 percent more aerodynamic than before. 

    The chassis is super rigid, using twice as much high-strength steel as the old. There's also some Boron steel whose strength is not only high, it's also thin and it bends more easily, to form the Explorer's front bumper beam, allowing the fenders to wrap gracefully and fade away at the corners. Such curves also help to transmit crash energy down and outside, away from the cabin. 

    There's a segment-leading 80.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats, with the split rear rows folded, which they do at the touch of a button on each side, bouncing back up with the pull of a lever. There's outstanding second-row legroom of 39.8 inches, with good third-row space at 33.2 inches. 

    Ford's stated goal was to make the Explorer's interior look expensive, like the cabin of a BMW X5 or Audi Q7. They've succeeded, at least on the Explorer Limited, whose leather seats are perfect, both in bolstering and stiffness/softness. 

    The front seat elevates high. The Explorer will be a versatile family vehicle, so the seats have memory for the XLT and Limited, while the steering wheel and pedals adjust for different drivers in the family. The ratcheted headrests are great, because they meet safety standards but don't push your head down at the chin, an annoyance we've noted on some recent Ford models. 

    When the driver surveys his or her domain, it all looks satisfying, with a clean and slanted center stack using stylish satin-finish trim materials, with attractive climate vents and audio speakers. 

    The new 3.5-liter V6, a DOHC all-aluminum mill with variable cam timing, was first used in the Ford Edge. Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with optional manual shifting, we found the power and acceleration to be smooth and responsive, with plenty of torque to maintain 80 mph on an uphill freeway, after a smooth and welcome kickdown to 5th gear. 

    Ford put all the engineering effort it could muster into the new Explorer, and got the ride, handling, and NVH results they hoped for. The rigid chassis and careful tuning of the independent suspension produce a superb all-around ride. We found the new Explorer takes corners and undulations flat (without excessive leaning), and the speed-sensitive electric power steering enables it to turn relatively tight and quick. 

    We tested the Explorer off-road as well as on the highway. The Terrain Management System uses no transfer case. Even with all-season tires (as opposed to all-terrain tires which improve traction in snow, sand and mud), the Explorer blasted around a sand pit and traversed deep ditches and steep hills, no problem. It was the smoothest ride we've ever encountered over such terrain. 

    Two-thirds of all 6 million Explorers sold over the last 20 years are still on the road, says Ford. The Explorer vehicle engineering team took prototypes of the new model over towering Colorado passes, buried them in deep sand in the California desert, carved through snow in Minnesota and Northern Michigan, traversed mud bogs in Alabama, and logged countless development miles at Arizona and Michigan proving grounds. 

    All three 2011 Explorer models seat seven passengers. Initially, all use the new 3.5-liter V6 engine with new 6-speed automatic transmission. The 2.4-liter turbocharged and ballyhooed EcoBoost motor will be available later in the year. It has nearly as much horsepower and similar as the V6, and gets better fuel mileage, but likely won't cost any less. 

    Lineup

    The 2011 Ford Explorer comes in three models: Explorer, Explorer XLT, and Explorer Limited. 

    The Explorer ($28,995) comes standard with cloth seats with 6-way power driver including lumbar and recline; 60/40 split rear and 50/50 third row; tilt/telescoping steering wheel with controls; 6-speaker AM/FM/CD MP3 sound system, air filtration, speed-sensitive wipers, power windows, power locks, power seats, overhead console, cargo hooks, four 12-volt outlets, privacy glass, LED taillamps, halogen projector-beam headlamps, folding sideview mirrors, roof rails, hill start assist, 175-amp alternator, 17-inch steel wheels with wheel covers. 

    The 4WD Terrain Management System ($2000) is optional. 

    The Explorer XLT ($31,995) adds upgraded cloth seats, leather steering wheel and shift knob, 18-inch painted aluminum wheels, automatic headlamps, heated sideview mirrors with LED turn signals and security approach lamps, backup and perimeter warning beepers, and 400-watt Sony sound system. 

    Explorer Limited ($37,995) adds leather seats, SelectShift manual mode for the 6-speed automatic transmission, 20-inch painted aluminum wheels, power folding sideview mirrors, ambient lighting, adjustable pedals with memory, cargo net, dual zone climate control, 10-way power driver seat, rearview camera, remote start, 110-volt outlet, push-button start, garage door opener, and last but not least MyFord Touch driver connect technology. Second-row captain's chairs are available. 

    Options include a power liftgate ($495), navigation ($795), and a Tow Package ($570) that includes trailer sway control that works with the stability camera, and a backup zoom camera that can guide your ball precisely to the hitch. 

    Safety features are headlined by the new curve control, which applies braking to individual wheels as needed to correct corner trajectory. Also standard are first-row airbags, side seat airbags, and side curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; tire pressure monitoring system, and front ratcheting headrests. Optional safety equipment includes inflatable rear seatbelts ($195), blind spot system with cross-traffic alert ($495), adaptive cruise control, and collision warning with brake support. 

    Walkaround

    The 2011 Explorer is a looker. It truly looks 100 percent reinvented, Ford's motto for the car. And it is a car; we can stop saying truck for almost every SUV now, and maybe even stop saying crossover, because they've just about all crossed over. The body-on-frame structure is just for pickups again, with virtually every manufacturer building their SUVs with unibody structures because they're stiffer, and with today's high-strength steels, they can be made lighter while still having a ride and handling that's firm. 

    The reinvented Explorer uses twice as much of that steel as the old, and throws in Boron steel because its strength is not only high, it's also thin so bends more easily, to form the Explorer's chassis curves, in particular the front bumper beam, allowing the fenders to wrap gracefully and fade away at the corners. Such curves also help to transmit crash energy down and outside, away from the cabin. 

    The Explorer is 4 inches longer and 5 inches wider than before, and its width is evident in its confident stance, but its smooth styling cheats the eye. It has beefy but smooth proportions, with short overhangs and fluid lines that are 12 percent more aerodynamic than before. Details such as the liftgate spoiler lip and flexible lower front air dam (black) were tweaked in the wind tunnel. Beautiful and headlamps complement the graceful fenders and transform the inherently square nose; the amber indicators sweep back like narrow wings, atop the tidy projector beam. 

    Rear taillamps are LED, and also look good. Black rockers on the sides allegedly lift the eye, but do they? We still like body-colored better. 

    The hood looks short from the side but long when looking straight down it; it's got two parallel humps and a scoop in the center, smoother than it sounds. 

    The window outline is clean, bold and symmetrical, with blackened A-, B-, and D-pillars, and with body-colored C-pillars that slant down and back and impart forward motion to the vehicle. With the dark privacy glass, from the shoulders up, in white at least, the Explorer looks like a sleek and powerful yacht. The fender flares are inspired by the Mustang, body sides follow the lines of the Taurus, and new three-bar grille strikes clearly of Range Rover (formerly in the family). The plastic grille is gray on the Base, body-colored on the XLT (the best looking), and satin-coated on the Limited. 

    Wheels are 17-inch steel with wheel covers on the Base, 10-spoke 18-inch painted aluminum on the XLT (best looking), and 20-inch painted aluminum with spokes like flower petals on the Limited. There are optional 20-inch polished aluminum wheels with spokes like shriveling flower petals; no wait, the spokes now look like crab pincers, no, make that a dentist's tooth extractor tool. 

    There's a rich shiny beautiful brownish color called Golden Bronze Metallic that we swear we've seen on Range Rovers, only it looks even better on the Explorer. 

    Interior

    Where to start? There's so much that's good. 

    Let's start with size. There's a segment-leading 80.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats, with the split rear rows folded, which they do like magic at the touch of a button on each side, bouncing back up with the pull of a lever; and outstanding second-row legroom of 39.8 inches, with good third-row space at 33.2 inches. Two kids will be happy in the third row, with that legroom to squirm and their own cupholders and bins. Because the doors swing wide and open easily, and because the second-row seat flips forward in a heartbeat, reaching the rear row, even for adults, is an easy climb. 

    Ford's goal was to make the Explorer's interior look expensive, like a BMW X5 or Audi Q7 they say. They've succeeded, at least on the Limited, although 40k-ish is expensive enough to warrant looking it. The Limited's leather seats are perfect (optional on the XLT), both in bolstering and stiffness/softness. Heated on XLT, heated and cooled with perforated leather on Limited. We haven't seen the cloth upholstery. 

    The front seat elevates high, which is good because the hood looks long from the driver's seat. The Explorer will be a versatile family vehicle, so the seats have memory for the XLT and Limited, while the steering wheel and pedals adjust for different drivers in the family. The ratcheted headrests are great, because they meet safety standards but don't push your head down at the chin. It's a problem with other vehicles that Ford solves with ratchets. 

    When the driver surveys his or her domain, it all looks satisfying, with a clean and slanted center stack using stylish satin-finish trim materials, with attractive climate vents and audio speakers. The doors have metal speaker grilles, and curve into the dash panel. There's a big glovebox with shelf, leather grab handles and armrests, and long door pockets with space for a bottle. 

    One reason we like the Base model is its relatively simple 4.2-inch LCD screen, and it doesn't come with the MyFord Touch driver connect technology, and neither does the XLT, at least not standard. MyFord Touch uses two driver-configurable LCD cluster screens, and already our driving is distracted. It's a cluster screen, all right; there are more screens than gauges, coming in four quadrants and colors: yellow for phone, red for audio, blue for climate and red for navigation. You have to scroll through a lot of stuff to get information, for example engine temperature, and even after you figure it all out, it will take your focus off the road to perpetually configure. 

    MyFord Touch uses an 8-inch color touch screen in the center stack to do the configuring. According to Ford, it replaces many of the traditional vehicle buttons, knobs and gauges with clear, colorful LCD screens and five-way buttons. The screens can be personalized to display information relevant to each individual driver using a simple button click, voice command or touch screen tap. We beg to differ with two words in that description: clear, and simple. 

    The voice command is also problematic. At the introduction in San Diego, we drove for the morning with a Ford representative, and for the afternoon with a fellow automotive journalist having a clear radio voice, and Voice Command didn't work for any of the three of us. Well, less than half the time. 

    We said, 'Climate,' and it replied, 'Climb in.' We said, 'Seventy-two degrees,' and it replied, 'Eighty-two degrees.' We repeated, slowly and with careful articulation, and it stuck to its 82 degrees. We said, 'Sixty-five degrees,' and it replied, 'Fifty-six degrees is not a valid temperature.' It got frustrated with us (maybe it just didn't like our smart-mouthing it), and once told us in no uncertain terms, 'Say yes or no.' We are not making this up. And there's more; it wasn't just a war over temperature, it was a war over everything. It got worse before it got better. We wanted POIs and it demanded we give it an address for navigation. 

    We stopped talking to her. If you run out to your Explorer to escape a demanding spouse, you better know where you want to go and how to get there, or you'll be in the same boat. 

    There's a pleasant and satisfying little blip sound (ah, that's more like it), when you make positive contact with a function on the touch screen, for example the climate system, for which you can use a button. Still, the touch screen doesn't work as well as the buttons, at least not for us. 

    In short, we are not fans of the voice commands or MyFord Touch, but we like the rest of the Explorer cabin. 

    Driving Impression

    The new 3.5-liter V6, a DOHC all-aluminum mill with variable cam timing, was first used in the Ford Edge; called Ti-VCT, it's been pumped up to 290 horsepower in the Explorer, with 255 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with optional manual shifting, we found the power and acceleration to be smooth and responsive, with plenty of torque to maintain 80 mph on an uphill freeway, after a smooth and welcome kickdown to fifth gear. 

    One virtue of the engine is its efficiency and, combined with the reduced weight and improved aerodynamics, the Explorer's fuel mileage is EPA rated at 17 City and 25 Highway miles per gallon. We drove nearly 200 miles in the Explorer, mostly at about 60 mph on casual two-lanes with about a dozen freeway miles running uphill to 80 mph, and averaged about 17 mpg. Before we got on the throttle on the freeway, we saw a 20-mpg average. 

    Ford put all the engineering effort it could muster into the new Explorer, and got the ride, handling, and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) results they hoped for. The rigid chassis and careful tuning of the independent suspension produce a superb all-around ride. It takes corners and undulations flat, and the speed-sensitive electric power steering enables it to turn relatively tight and quick. 

    The front suspension uses short and long arms with a fat 32mm stabilizer bar. Engineers gave the rear suspension a name, SR1, because for each wheel movement, the shock absorbers are tuned to make the same motion in the same cadence, which they say eliminates undesirable ride motions. It must be true because we felt no undesirable motions when we drove the Explorer. 

    Not even off-road. Our introduction included seat time on an off-road course, and we've never tested anything off road that absorbed deep ruts and huge humps so smoothly. We're talking 10 mph here. It was as if the Explorer had a few extra feet of travel in the suspension. 

    The main object of the off-road driving was to test the electronic Terrain Management System, which uses no transfer case; saves weight, and that helps fuel mileage. Even with all-season tires (as opposed to all-terrain tires which improve traction in snow, sand and mud), the Explorer blasted around a sand pit no problem. Never fear going to the beach and exploring. Have a family picnic atop the far dune. 

    There are four modes to the system, which the driver sets with a knob behind the shift lever. In the Normal mode, on dry pavement, the vehicle runs at about a 90/10 bias in front-wheel drive, and torque shifts to the rear as needed. This is what you'll use most of the time, rain or shine. 

    The Snow/Gravel mode allows less wheelspin, provides conservative throttle control, and enables earlier transmission upshifts. This should help stabilize handling, making it easier to control, though you'll still need to exercise care when slowing down. 

    The Sand mode provides more aggressive throttle, holds the transmission in gear longer, and desensitizes traction control. Because, unlike in snow, to make progress in sand you need wheelspin. 

    Mud/Ruts allows torque as throttle increases. Stability control is desensitized to help maintain momentum over soft or uneven surfaces. 

    Terrain Management also includes Hill Descent Control, which proved itself on a steep downhill on the off-road course, holding the Explorer's speed to 4 mph without driver input. It's proven itself in many vehicles we've tested, including many Land Rovers. On an icy hill, it could save your life or at least help you avoid crashing and damaging your vehicle. If you think you'll need this feature, it's worth learning how to use it most effectively. 

    The Explorer will tow 5000 pounds when equipped with the tow package, a spendy option, but it includes things you might wonder how you lived without. There's trailer sway control, which works with the stability control, and is another thing that could save your life. There's also a rearview camera with zoom, which will guide you to position the hitch ball directly under the trailer hitch cap, and make you feel like an astronaut docking his spacecraft. 

    Summary

    The all-new 2011 Ford Explorer is worth the wait. It's improved in every area, while costing $1100 less than before. In the Base model, you get a totally equipped, state-of-the-art, powerful 7-seat SUV that gets an EPA-rated 25 mpg on the highway, for about $33,000, a deal that can't be beat. 

    Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Ford Explorer near La Jolla, California. 

    Model Lineup

    Ford Explorer ($28,995); XLT ($31,995); Limited ($37,995). 

    Assembled In

    Chicago. 

    Options As Tested

    Comfort package with leather upholstery, Voice-activated navigation system, MyFord Touch driver connect package, Blind spot information system, SelectShift transmission, Trailer tow package. 

    Model Tested

    Ford Explorer XLT 4WD ($31,995). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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