Ford’s venerable Explorer SUV has undergone a serious transformation – getting a new look and new engineering.
But the 2011 model year version of this vehicle remains a solid choice for those seeking a versatile family hauler. It’s always been popular among motorists in the Macon area for its ability to carry people, lots of stuff and for its capability of going off road.
The most significant change is found in the platform, which is now shared with the Taurus sedan. That makes the Explorer now a crossover by definition.
Ford jettisoned the V-8 engine and stepped up the fuel economy of the power plants that remain. The 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is standard, and comes with front- or all-wheel drive. Optional is a 237-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with front-wheel drive and 250 pounds-feet of torque. Each engine is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission (auto-manual mode is offered).
Ford says the Explorer’s towing capacity is 5,000 pounds with the V-6, which is not too bad, but of course down substantially from what you could tow with the V-8.
On models with all-wheel drive, you can take advantage of Ford’s Terrain Management System, which shifts drivetrain settings to four different selections: pavement, snow, sand or mud. That is a nod to Explorer’s history as an off-road vehicle, a status it wants to maintain in some form.
Fuel economy is not bad, at 17 city and 25 highway.
The Explorer comes in three trims: base, XLT and Limited.
Ford’s designer’s Explorer a more crossover-like appearance to match its new platform, and it works really well. This model is now very attractive, with its wider stance, three-bar grill and more sculpted rear. The seventeen-inch steel wheels are standard, and as options Ford offers body-colored door handles, mirrors, and 18- or 20-inch alloy wheels.
The interior is also news, as there is now a third row of seating. For the mid row you can get a bench or captain’s chairs. Ford says the 50/50-split third row can be folded down manually, or with the touch of a button if you opt for that feature. Ford says there are 80.7 cubic feet of cargo space when all rear seats are down. One thing that’s a bit disappointing, though, is the leg room up front. The driver’s seat does not go back all that far, and this driver felt as if there really was no more leg room than in Ford’s Focus compact. A vehicle this big should offer more space than that.
For options, choose from leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, and a dual-panel moonroof are optional.
Ford has added a more high-tech dash, with touch-sensitive controls and LCD gauge screens. Frankly, this wasn’t a favorite feature either, as it really takes some getting used to. But once you figure it out, use the Sync entertainment system, MyTouch and MyKey systems to control music, navigation and other information. The 4.2-inch center-console mounted LCD screen is standard.
There are a fair number of standard safety features such as electronic stability control system with Roll Stability Control, antilock brakes and side curtain airbags. There is also adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning and industry first inflatable rear seat belts, which Ford says deploy evenly across the body. That feature is optional.
The Explorer ranges from around $29,000 to around $40,000.
Ford’s changes to the Explorer were probably long overdue, but certainly have been worth the wait.