2011 Ford Explorer: Car-Based, Off-Road Ready

“In our 20 years of history, we’ve found that only 17 percent of our customers go off-road, 80 percent of our customers do not tow and 2.6 percent of our customers do not tow more than 5,000 pounds,” said Amy Marentic, Ford group marketing manager.

The completely revamped new 2011 Ford Explorer is designed around all of this customer data. The 2011 Explorer is not just a rehash of the previous truck-based vehicle. This time around Ford’s new Explorer is an SUV that’s built on a car-like unibody chassis with a more luxurious cabin, more interior space, more power and a user-friendly all-terrain system.

Focusing on families, the new edition Explorer has three rows of seating with room for seven people. After spending a day testing the 2011 Explorer, racer Emily Miller was impressed enough to say that she would consider using the new model in competition. Miller, a professional off-road racer, a Baja 1000 class winner and the only woman to finish the “ironman” longest off-road race in the U.S., said, “It has the styling and handling similar to a European sports sedan but the capabilities for those who need to take it off road.”

Miller, who admitted to being skeptical, was sold on the Curve Control, a system that uses sensors to determine vehicle speed when entering a turn and applies brake pressure if needed to stabilize the vehicle. I was also along for the drive, which covered a variety of off-road venues, including sand, mud and water, as well as the highways and small towns of Southern California.

“We didn’t freshen, we created,” explained Jim Holland, chief engineer on the 2011 Explorer. The team reduced the total weight of the vehicle by almost 100 pounds, improved aerodynamics by 12 percent, increased the interior room and decreased fuel consumption. The 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V-6 engine, combines front-wheel drive with 290 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque with an estimated 17 miles per gallon on the highway and 25 mpg on the highway: a 20 percent improvement over the last generation’s 14/20 mpg numbers.

If you want to up the power, Explorer’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 turbocharged engine delivers 237 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 250 lb.-ft. of torque. The Explorer models with V-6 power are rated to tow a maximum of 5,000 pounds. To aid with hookup and back up, a reverse camera with zoom-in functionality is available. Another towing aid, trailer sway control, is a stability package shared with the Ford F-150 pickup.

Ford is also introducing a slew of technologies with the 2011 Explorer to further improve consumer features, including the touch navigation system and smart phone integration. Bottom line: Ford is upping the ante on SUVs while paying attention to mpg, technology and luxury. — Holly Reich, Motor Matters

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