2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD
2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD. Click image to enlarge

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Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2011 Ford Explorer

The completely redesigned Explorer is the latest SUV to “cross over” from a truck-based, body-on-frame SUV with a solid rear axle to a unit-body crossover with a fully independent suspension. But though it’s no longer a “truck”, the 2011 Explorer is a bigger, more imposing vehicle that has graduated from “mid-size” to somewhere between that and “full-size”, very close to the size of a Chevrolet Traverse. The Explorer is about 94 mm (3.7 in.) longer and 132 mm (5.2 in.) wider than the previous Explorer, and while the corners are rounded for better aerodynamics, it has an imposing front-end with a flat hood and a massive multi-holed grille that resembles the upmarket Range Rover’s.

It may not be a truck, but it’s got attitude!

Though not quite as heavy as the old Explorer, the 4WD model still tips the scales at a hefty 2,129 kg/4,695 lbs. Despite this and a 38 per cent increase in horsepower over the previous V6, the Explorer’s new 3.5-litre V6 gets better fuel economy: official fuel consumption numbers for the 290-hp 3.5-litre V6 engine (L/100 km) are 11.9 city/8.0 hwy (24/35 mpg Imp.) using Regular gasoline, compared to the previous 210-hp 4.0-litre V6 with 15.9 city/10.7 hwy (18/26 mpg Imp.). Still, my average fuel consumption over a week in city dominated driving was 13.5 L/100 km.

2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD
2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD
2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD. Click image to enlarge

The new 3.5-litre V6 has almost as much power as the previously available 4.6-litre V8 with 292 horsepower. Equipped with a towing package, the V6-powered Explorer will tow up to 2,267 kg (5,000 pounds) and includes standard Trailer Sway Control to help keep trailers from wandering side to side. The Explorer’s 5,000-lb towing capacity is decent, but the previous Explorer with the optional V8 could handle up to 3,234 kg (7,130 lbs) when properly equipped.

Later in 2011, the new Explorer will be available with an all-new turbocharged 237-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder “Ecoboost” engine with direct fuel injection that promises even better fuel economy, but won’t be good for towing. Whether a 2.0-litre four-banger will be up to the task of motivating this 4,600 lb SUV is something to be determined!

The standard transmission in all Explorers is a six-speed automatic with a tall highway gear designed to improve fuel economy. Zero to 60 mph goes by in about eight seconds according to Consumer Reports, but as the transmission seems geared more for fuel economy than performance, shifts are sometimes slow and acceleration seems wanting at times. Perhaps that’s not too surprising given that this is a big, heavy vehicle – it would be a perfect candidate for Ford’s turbocharged 355-hp 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 that’s available in the Flex and Taurus.

In the XLT and Limited models, the six-speed automatic includes a manual shift mode operated by a button on the side of the shift knob. This allows the driver to keep it in a lower gear for better acceleration and would be very useful when towing a trailer up or downhill. As well, a driver selectable Tow/Haul mode can be activated to alter automatic gearshifts to account for the heavier weight of a trailer when braking and accelerating.

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