In the time leading up to us reviewing the 2011 Ford Explorer, I was already quite excited about it. All Ford products we’ve driven in the last few years have been getting better and better and there is no getting away from the fact that this is one nice looking SUV.
Back in the mid 90’s, the Explorer was all the rage and the SUV market was really taking off. Living in Texas, it’s almost guaranteed that you owned one or directly knew someone who owned one. This all seemed to come to a crashing halt when the Firestone Tire scandal started to surface. Moreover, the SUV market was changing. No longer were big gas guzzling SUV’s as practical or popular as they once were. When Ford set out to bring the Explorer back, they had to take all of these changes into mind.
Ford first tried their hand swinging and missing with the Ford Flex. As nice and capable as this SUV was, the styling never really caught on in a major way. The new Explorer is built on the same platform as the Flex, but with a radically different design. The new Explorer borrows from the welcomed styling of the Ford Edge. It shares a more crossover SUV look while incorporating a muscular and modern shape. The three-bar grille has been toned down with paint matching bars and much smaller chrome bars. I’m not the biggest fan of large chrome bits, so to me, it looks really done right. The new Explorer sits lower due to being built on a car and crossover platform rather than being built on a truck platform, but it still has a big and capable appearance.
Inside, like many new Fords, just takes the cake. Our tester was fitted with the LTD trim packing lots of leather and nice features. It also was packed with a 3rd row. Unlike some three row SUVs, namely the Outlander GT we test drove a few weeks back, the Explorer has a very nice set of seats in the back. We are not advocating that they are the most comfortable for adults on long journeys, but for children, they are just right. The seats also had a power folding option. Walk to the rear of the Explorer, hit the power liftgate opener on the keyfob, reach in and push the power folding seat button, and walk away. Not having to dealing with straps or leavers trying to get the seats up and down is a great convenience that you only normally see on much more expensive SUV’s.
Besides the convenience of having a 3rd row, the Explorer is also packed with technology. Our tester was equipped with Ford’s SYNC system, active park assist, a Sony audio system with HD radio, heated and cooled seats, navigation, push-button start, a blindspot alert on the side mirror, collision warning system with brake support, a rear-view camera, and rain-sensing wipers. All this technology coupled together with nice leather and soft-touch materials made this Explorer feel upscale. Not just upscale for an Explorer, but upscale even for a Lincoln, Lexus, or Cadillac.
One of the things Ford knew they had to do is make this new Explorer competitive with it’s fuel economy, but keep the power needed to push around a serious SUV. There has been many discussions on the best powertrain for the big Explorer including the 3.7 twin-turbo’d EcoBoost out of the Taurus SHO. In 2012, Ford will be selling the Explorer with an EcoBoost engine but not the 3.7 V6. Instead they will be offering the 2.0 turbo EcoBoost engine.
No matter what you think about that, for 2011 you only have one option and that’s the 3.5 V6. This engine produces 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft or torque through a 6-speed automatic transmission while allowing the Explorer to claim best-in-class fuel economy of 25 highway mpg. During our time with the Explorer we easily averaged in the 21-22 mpg range, which was incredibly good in our opinion.
If you’re one of many Texans who need to tow around a trailer or take your boat to the dock, the people at Ford haven’t forgotten about you either. Although you lose some towing abilities thanks to the car platform, they have still given you a 5,000 pound towing ability. They have also thought about things like placement of the rear-view camera allowing you to backup and hookup to your trailer easier. You also have hill start assist and hill descent control systems at your fingertips.
One thing we didn’t get to play with as much as we really wanted to is the Range Rover like terrain management system. This system allows you to shift on the fly from one setting to the next giving you the proper grip, torque, and throttle response needed to tackle the terrain that lay ahead. Your options are normal, mud/ruts, sand, and grass/gravel/snow.
No matter the terrain you find yourself in, the Explorer should give you a comfortable ride. Highway driving is a breeze and the engine really puts out just enough power to give you proper overtaking control. Although you lose some towing abilities the platform gives the Explorer a car-like driving experience and puts it’s comfort up there with the top of its class.
All this technology, comfort, and capability does come at a price though. Our decked out Explorer smashes your pocketbook with an MSRP of $45,475. This to many we talked to was a deal breaker for buying a Ford. After driving it though, I really think the price is well deserved in this marketplace as you look at the cost of even cheap SUV’s these days. A base Explorer starts out at $28,995 and it’s just as nice to look at and drive. Stepping up with the luxury will cost you but I really think the interior is nicer than some way more expensive SUV’s I’ve driven. I really think the new Explorer hit every mark it needed to hit. It’s great looking, has great fuel economy, still has the power you need, has the room you need, and has one of the best interiors for the money. Now all Ford needs to do is stay away from recalls.