Earlier in the year, we spent a week with the all new 2011 Ford Explorer and came away suitably impressed. Even though it was a real life week in The Garage though, the true test of how the Explorer would fit into our lifestyle could only come through the ultimate test: A week of camping with a family of 5 and a dog.
As our kids have grown (not to mention the canine addition to the family) our space requirements for camping have grown along with them. Having 10 and 12 year old boys, along with a 17 year old daughter, means that we can no longer jam them into a tiny space between all of the stuff. The dog is the size of a small pony, so he adds to the problem. The fact that our tent is the size of a third world mansion should also give some idea how much space we need. In other words, not even a full size SUV like the Explorer can swallow everything we need for a week in the wilds. Ok, so car camping isn’t exactly wild, but you get the idea.
The solution? Mom, 2 kids, the dog and a bunch of pillows in Mom’s car. The Dude and I took on the roles of deck hands on the cargo ship.
We folder down all the seats and carefully began piecing together the cargo puzzle. A small mountain bike in the front, center was flanked by a pair of coolers and a pair of large cargo bins. behind that came the tent, folding canopy, 5 lawn chairs and myriad other things from camp stove to hatchet and everything in between.
Our tester was equipped with the optional trailer hitch and wiring, which is hidden behind a cover in the back bumper that is dead easy to remove. Our trusty hitch mount bike rack slid right in and we added 3 more bikes on the back. Having the bike rack in place meant turning off the park assist so that the warning beep didn’t drive me crazy every time I put the shifter into reverse.
Out on the road, the heavily loaded Explorer felt a bit, well, heavier but not to the point that it affected the ride or performance. If anything, it felt more solid. Surprisingly, as you can see in the photos, there was little squat in the rear suspension, even with the extra weight of 3 bikes hanging off the back.
As we cruised north, I found myself thinking that this is a vehicle that I would truly be happy owning. Even still, no vehicle is perfect and the Explorer presented me with a couple of minor quibbles. First off, I love all of the techno toys as much or more than the next guy, but with masses of electronics comes a certain amount of power management. We forgot a pin cable to connect an iPod to my kid’s radio, so we attempted to operate only the audio system. From what I can see from reading the owner’s manual, this is not possible. After a while, the system shuts itself down using a battery saver feature. I understand the need for this. I don’t like it, but I understand it. What I don’t understand is why the interior lights cannot be shut off if the doors are open. Certainly with all of this tech, Ford could create the modern equivalent of the 3 position dome light switch. A small thing, but it bugged me.
My auto trim skills were put to use in the field when the 110 v plug socket broke and disappeared into the center console. It seems that when the cover is in the fully open position, the center console armrest can’t be opened fully or breakage will occur. I seem to recall something similar happening with phone chargers in the early Jeep Grand Cherokee. Fortunately, it all just fell apart and I was able to reconstruct it. No harm, no foul and a lesson learned, albeit a lesson I shouldn’t have had to learn.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was the fact that we achieved pretty decent fuel economy from our heavily laden truck with less than optimal aero thanks to the bikes on the back. Even with hours of idling to keep the tunes alive, we managed to record about 11 l/100 km. That’s pretty darned good for an suv with 290 horsepower!
Overall, our second visit with the 2011 Ford Explorer proved that Ford has succeeded in building a rugged yet comfortable vehicle that works for an active family. It looks great, performs well and gets decent fuel economy while hauling the goods. Well done!