When it comes to product names, Ford has a few skeletons in its closet. Tempo and Topaz are a couple of notable ones. The Taurus moniker looked to be headed into the closet too, until the 500 name did little for sales and they resurrected the Taurus name. Having been called the Exploder, among other not so complimentary things, Ford could have been forgiven for wanting to nuke the Explorer nameplate. Fortunately, Ford execs learned their lesson from the 500/Taurus sales disaster and chose instead build the absolute best Explorer they could.
Starting with a clean slate for the 2011 model year, Ford sought to build a world class family hauler and it shows in several areas. Previous Explorer models were little more than big boxes on wheels. Not overly refined or appealing. Ford designers stepped up their game to create a shape that is distinctly Ford, but is as stylish as any of the high end competitors, without taking any undo risks for the sake of artfulness.
The great indoors is, well, great. The design is contemporary and comfortable, with soft to the touch materials accented by brushed aluminum trim. By far the most noticeable design achievement is the unbelievable silence in the cabin. Because of the cavernous space, full size SUV’s are often full of all manner of noises, from inside and out. The 2011 Explorer is concert hall quiet.
As regular readers know, I’m big on SUV’s actually having some Utility, which is often lacking when all seats are occupied in all but the largest of the variety. Make no mistake, the Explorer is really big, but not to the same level as a Yukon. Regardless, the cargo area behind the third row of seats is easily big enough to pass our 3 hockey bag test. For a family of 5 like ours to go away for a week, there is more than enough room for all of our flotsam and the 100 lb dog.
Out on the road, the Explorer is a pleasure to drive. That quiet cabin, coupled with a smooth as silk ride and well programmed shift points for the 6 speed automatic ensure a comfy ride. Interestingly, something in the way all the features combine, the Explorer drives like a much smaller vehicle.
In our tester, that 6 speed was coupled to a 3.5l V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 255 lb/ft of torque. That power makes its way to all four wheels through a new intelligent four wheel drive system which allows the driver to choose between a range of surfaces including snow, sand, mud and dry pavement. For the more adventurous cottagers, there is also a sophisticated hill descent control as part of this package.
Ford claims this drivetrain, coupled with weight reduction and a few other tricks, achieves 20 percent better fuel economy than the previous model. The Canadian EPA ratings show the V6, 4wd model as consuming 12.5 l/100 km in the city and 8.8 l/100 on the highway. Perhaps this is a case where government testing methods fall short of real world expectations, as during our week of combined city & highway driving, we saw a rather dismal 14.3 l/100 km. With gas approaching the $1.25 a liter point in Ontario, consumers should look hard at their needs before choosing a vehicle of this size from ANY manufacturer.
Ford started the techno revolution of automotive contenting when they introduced their Sync system using a healthy dose of Microsoft software, so it stands to reason that they will continue to lead the way in the fun wars. The entire driving experience has been touched with the advent of MyFord Touch, MyForddriver and MyKey systems. Not only are the media options astounding, but most vehicle functions are accessible via the touch screen lcd or the center console which is also touch operated.
In fact, Ford has jammed so many features into the 2011 Explorer that a review that addresses all of them would come out looking like a press release, so I’m going to end it here.
I know that some readers who have traditionally driven import SUV’s might wince at the suggestion of the Explorer as their next vehicle. Trust me, you need to have a more in depth look at the features offered and then you need to get behind the wheel. There is a reason that the 2011 Explorer has won several Truck of the Year awards. It really is that good.