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  • 2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD

    Posted on January 17th, 2011 ninarussin

    Ford puts on its game face for a new generation of active buyers

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Ford Explorer

    The biggest challenge an automaker can face is to overhaul a core model. The Ford Explorer which defined the sport-utility segment back in the early 1990s is a perfect example.

    When I first drove the outgoing version, I was disappointed. There was nothing particularly wrong with the car except that it hadn’t evolved. In contrast, the all-new 2011 model meets the needs of millennial buyers, and in some ways, raises their expectations.

    The newest Explorer does everything former generations did, only more efficiently. A 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops peak torque, 255 foot-pounds, at 4000 rpm for performance similar to the former eight-cylinder block, while an EcoBoost inline four-cylinder engine replaces the former V-6.

    With three rows of seating, four-wheel drive and towing up to 5000 pounds, the 2011 Explorer meets the diverse needs of active families, yet averages 23 mpg on the highway for the V-6 version. Engineers were able to make the new unibody chassis durable enough to withstand the rigors of off-road driving and towing, but with more refined road manners than former body-on frame models.

    Ford leveraged technologies from its partnerships with Volvo and Land Rover to give the new Explorer premium safety and performance features. Blind spot monitoring, developed in conjunction with Volvo illuminates LEDs in the side mirrors to warn them about vehicles in the Explorer’s blind spots. Terrain management, a system which debuted on the Land Rover LR3, modifies the throttle, suspension steering and brakes according to the driving surface.

    Three grades, two engines and available four-wheel drive

    2011 Ford Explorer

    By offering the new model in three grades with available four-wheel drive, Ford was able to keep the base price, including delivery, under $30,000. The XLT is the volume-leading mid-grade, priced from $33,190.

    The test car comes with the 290-horsepower V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. Standard terrain management replaces a traditional two-speed transfer case while giving driver similar control on extreme off-road trails.

    There are four options on the test car: a driver connect package that includes My Ford Touch, Sync voice activation, a rearview camera, dual-zone temperature controls and an audio upgrade; candy-apple paint, a tow-prep package and six-speed select-shift transmission with manual gear selection. The options bring the price as tested to $36,710.

    New driver interface

    Ford Explorer Interior

    Drivers who step inside the new Explorer for the first time will notice a completely reinvented driver interface. Designers replaced the conventional gauge cluster and center stack display with virtual displays which are easy to read, and give the driver more control over everything from infotainment to fuel economy.

    My Ford Touch is the next step in the automaker’s eco-driving initiative, helping drivers to conserve fuel by showing them the most fuel-efficient route to a destination, and by providing real-time fuel economy performance.

    The eco-route feature on the navigation system selects a route through which the driver can maintain a consistent speed with a minimum of stops and starts. The real-time fuel economy data is a bar graph display that can give the driver a 10-30 minute snapshot of the vehicle’s gas mileage.

    Sync voice activated controls allow the driver to direct navigation and infotainment functions without taking his eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel.

    A my key function enables parents to limit the speeds at which their children drive the car, and to block satellite radio content they feel is inappropriate.

    Despite the abundance of information, the displays themselves are uncluttered and intuitive to use. The rearview camera which comes with the driver connect package uses the same center stack display as the navigation system. A grid superimposed over the camera image shows the car’s trajectory according to steering inputs.

    Test drive east of Phoenix

    2011 Ford Explorer

    I spent the first couple of days in the Explorer driving around surface streets in my neighborhood. Later in the week, I drove the car out of town to the Tonto national forest, where I could test performance on both paved and unpaved roads.

    Despite being a large vehicle, most drivers should find the Explorer a very easy car to drive. With the exception of a high front cowl, visibility around the perimeter is quite good. Convex inserts in the side mirrors eliminate blind spots in the rear corners and give the driver a better view of vehicles in the adjacent lanes. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clear in rain and snow.

    Because the engine develops peak torque at mid-throttle, acceleration in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range is quite good.

    The automatic transmission transitions smoothly through the gears, with no obvious hunting or harsh downshifts. I did not use the manual gear selection, simply because none of the roads in my test drive required it.

    The terrain control feature takes the guesswork out of off-road trails by automatically optimizing steering, suspension and brakes. Its operation is as wonderful as it sounds. I took the Explorer to an off-road driving park near the Bush Highway and selected the setting for loose dirt.

    The terrain management system automatically engages traction and stability control as necessary to prevent the wheels from skidding. At the base of a steep grade, hill start assist kicks in the keep the Explorer from sliding backwards. Hill descent control, standard on four-wheel drive models, maintains a speed under five miles-per-hour on steep grades without the drive applying the brakes.

    The nicest thing about the new technology is that it should give drivers without a lot of off-roading experience the confidence to explore areas they might have otherwise been too timid to try.

    Seating for up to seven passengers

    Inside, the Explorer seats up to seven passengers, although its floor tunnel limits legroom in the middle position of the second row. The interior is well isolated from road, engine and wind noise, so passengers in the rear seats should have no problems conversing with those up front.

    The standard cloth upholstery is attractive and more practical for buyers with active lifestyles than leather. The power adjustments on the driver’s seat are easy to use. A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel enables small drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag. Redundant audio and cruise controls minimize driver distraction.

    Inflatable seatbelts in the second row protect small children who are more susceptible to chest and neck trauma than adults.

    With the third-row seats in place, there is plenty of cargo space for groceries or luggage. Folding the rear seats flat extends the cargo floor so that the Explorer easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.

    Second-row seats tumble forward to ease access and egress to the third row. I was pleasantly surprised to find enough head and legroom in back to be comfortable.

    All passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders.

    Standard roof rails make it easy to add a cargo carrier up top.

    Standard safety

    All models come with front, side, and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction and roll stability control. Ford’s keypad entry system enables passengers to enter the car using a numeric code: a very handy feature at the trailhead or ski slope.

    Ford builds the Explorer at its Chicago, Illinois assembly plant.

    Likes: A versatile sport-utility vehicle with an advanced driver interface, four-wheel drive and towing up to 5000 pounds.

    Dislike: High cowl limits forward visibility which can be a problem on off-road trails.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Ford
    Model: Explorer XLT 4WD
    Year: 2011
    Base price: $33,190*
    As tested: $36,710
    Horsepower: 290 Hp @ 6500 rpm
    Torque: 255 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Off-Road: Yes
    Towing: Yes
    Fuel economy: 17/23 mpg city/highway
    Comments: *Base price includes destination and delivery charges.


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