Article and photos by Peter Bleakney
2011 Ford Explorer
Toronto, Ontario – In late 2010, Ford will be launching the 2011 Ford Explorer – a complete remake of a vehicle that arguably started the North American love affair with the SUV. Since bowing in 2001, Ford has sold about six million Explorers worldwide, but sales have seen a steady decline recently. Last year, Ford of Canada moved 4,200 Explorers, down considerably from the heydays of the 90s when around 20,000 went out the door on a yearly basis.
On July 26, President and CEO of Ford of Canada, David Mondragon, pulled the wraps off the 2011 Explorer at a trendy downtown Toronto nightclub amid much fanfare.
While we journalists are used to fantastic and sometimes overly optimistic tag lines, Ford’s “completely re-invented” Ford Explorer certainly holds some promise. Driving impressions will have to wait until closer to launch time.
Let’s start with the visuals. This seven-seater looks crisp and modern, and the front end bears a striking resemblance to the Land Rover Evoque – which is no bad thing, and not particularly surprising since Land Rover was under the stewardship of Ford until only recently.
The A, B and D-pillars are cleverly camouflaged to blend in with the glass, so from the side, the Explorer’s roof looks like it’s supported only by the broad C-pillar. It’s a handsome rig.
2011 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge
The interior is elegantly simple and modern, and all the materials feel good to the touch. Quality is a quantum leap from the current Explorer. Available MyFord Touch along with Ford SYNC will give drivers voice and touch-screen control over all infotainment systems. An industry-first is available inflatable seatbelts in the back that spread crash forces over a broader area of the body.
The 2011 Explorer is built on a modified Ford Flex platform. It has a slightly shorter wheelbase and the vehicle is four inches shorter overall than the Flex. We’re looking at the first unibody Explorer in its 20-year history, so it’s reasonable to expect improvements in refinement and drivability.
There are two engines offered. Base is a 3.5-litre Ti-VCT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. The big (or should I say small?) news is an optional direct-injection 2.0-litre Ti-VCT EcoBoost turbocharged inline four generating 237 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque from 1,700 to 4,000 r.p.m.
Yes, you read that right – a four-cylinder engine in a big North American SUV – and the four costs more than the six. No V8 will be offered. The times they are a changing, and Ford dearly hopes the consumer is ready.
Naturally, Ford is claiming best-in-class fuel economy figures for the EcoBoost model. Although no numbers are available, they expect a 30 per cent reduction in fuel consumption over the outgoing 4.8-litre V8.
2011 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge
The 3.5-litre V6 sees a 25 per cent improvement with nearly similar horsepower and torque figures to the V8. With this engine, the 2011 Explorer will tow 5,000 lb (2,268 kg).
The engines are paired to six-speed automatic transmissions – unique for each engine.
Weight reduction was another key element in improving the Explorer’s fuel efficiency – it weighs 45 kilograms less than the outgoing model thanks in part to composite engine bits (intake manifold and cam covers in the V6) and an aluminum hood.
Another Land Rover-ish feature is the available Terrain Management System with Hill Descent, controlled by a rotary dial on the centre console (with icons lifted right from Land Rover’s “Terrain Response” system). As with the British off-roader, the presets (normal, snow, sand, mud/ruts) adjust the responses of the vehicle’s engine, transmission, AWD system, and stability control system to match the demands of the terrain.
Ford has also added Curve Control, which appears to be a more advanced version of their current stability control system wherein individual wheels are targeted with ABS if the sensors that monitor such things predict an unscheduled encounter with the rhubarb.
As with the outgoing Explorer, Ford is positioning the 2011 Explorer as “pure” SUV. Nowhere in the press material will you find the term “crossover”.
The 2011 Ford Explorer with be initially offered in three trim levels: base, XLT and Limited. Prices will be announced closer to the introduction date.