The Ford Explorer was the darling of Sport Utility Vehicles during the SUV craze of the 1990s and mid 2000s. By 2005, however, rising fuel prices, some bad publicity, and changing consumer tastes caused sales to plummet.
Today, the 2011 Explorer is completely reinvented. Now it’s a bit kinder and gentler to satisfy evolving customer expectations. Better road manners, along with respectable off-road capability, make it more like a crossover than an SUV.
“The new Explorer simply does everything well,” said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, global product development, “It raises the bar for ride and handling on the road and transforms the off-road experience. It’s the hands-down winner for towing capability and ease. All this capability — and three rows of seating — with amazing fuel economy will make Explorer the absolute right choice for families with a sense of adventure.”
Explorer with V-6 power is expected to deliver more than 20 percent better fuel economy than the 2010 model, and when the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine becomes available later, Ford expects fuel economy to show a more than 30 percent improvement.
The body-on-frame layout with rear-wheel drive has been replaced with a variation of the Ford Taurus unibody platform. And to make it more of a crossover the standard powertrain combines front-wheel drive with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque.
A new 6-speed automatic transmission with a wider range of ratios is intended to make up for eliminating the transfer case and its low range. It combines lowered initial gears for improved off-the-line acceleration and higher gearing for improved efficiency at lower engine rpm when cruising.
According to Ford, the key to maintaining Explorer 4WD capability is Ford’s new terrain management system. Rather than using 4-High, 4-Low and auto settings, terrain management is selectable by situation. The four settings (available by shift-on-the-fly) include normal, mud, sand and snow.
Each setting provides unique engine behavior, throttle tip-in, transmission shift scheduling and calibrations for traction and stability control systems. A driver need only turn the console-mounted knob to the proper setting for snow, sand, mud or normal modes.
Explorer’s EPAS electric power steering system has variable rates of assistance based on speed, turn-in and direction.