2011 Ford Explorer Limited
2011 Ford Explorer Limited. Click image to enlarge

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Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2011 Ford Explorer

Redesigning a vehicle is always a leap of faith, but it’s even more difficult when it’s an iconic model with many fans. That was the case with the Ford Explorer. It was losing ground with buyers due to its thirsty engine and truck-based construction, but it had to tread lightly. The result is a new model that’s nothing like the one it replaces, and one that, for the most part, hits the mark as intended.

The previous body-on-frame is gone in favour of unibody construction. The old 4.0-litre V6 and available 4.6-litre V8 have also rumbled off into the sunset, replaced with a 3.5-litre V6 that will be joined next year by a turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. Two-wheel models power the front ones rather than the rear ones as before, and on four-wheelers, the old 4Hi/4Lo transfer case controller is replaced by a Land Rover-ish Terrain Management dial that automatically determines the best settings for the road type selected.

It comes in three trim levels, starting with the base front-wheel drive Explorer at $29,999 and moving up through the XLT and Limited. Unusually, all three can be ordered in front- or four-wheel drive, which is a refreshing change; all too often, if you want the top trim level, you have to take the all-wheels-driving option. That’s what my Limited tester had, which gave it a starting price of $44,199 before a $7,600 boost courtesy of the options list. All models come standard with three-row seating.

2011 Ford Explorer Limited
2011 Ford Explorer Limited. Click image to enlarge

The new Explorer is certainly a looker, with a bold wide grille, sculpted sides and modestly-chromed rear end. It’s longer and wider than the old Explorer it replaces, which helps give it its substantial interior roominess, but it weighs approximately 45 kilograms less than the outgoing one. It’s equally handsome inside, especially with my tester’s Luxury Seating Package. It’s pricey at $900, but it adds perforated leather seats that are heated and cooled and have ten-way power adjustment for driver and passenger, plus power-folding third-row seats.

The 3.5-litre V6 makes 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque, and it’s a considerable improvement over both of the engines it replaces. Compared to the previous V6, it makes 80 additional horses, and it’s only two less than the outgoing V8. The biggest difference is that while the old V6 drank 15.9 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres in city driving, the new one with AWD is rated at 12.9 L/100 km, along with a highway rating of 8.8 L/100 km. In combined driving, I averaged 12.7 L/100 km.

It’s a strong engine and is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic that includes a manual shift mode when the optional trailer tow package is ordered. That package, added to my tester for an additional $500, gives the Explorer a rating of 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) and includes trailer sway control borrowed from the F-150.

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