2011 Ford Explorer
2011 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge

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Ford Motor Company of Canada

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Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2011 Ford Explorer

San Diego, California – It’s been a long time since an all-new Ford Explorer was launched — nine years actually, which is an epoch for the automotive industry — and during the intervening years, much has happened with Ford’s SUV/CUV range. The Edge and seven-passenger Flex were introduced; the Freestyle and Taurus X appeared and disappeared; the Windstar minivan became the Freestar and was retired, and an all-new Escape and Escape Hybrid hit the roads.

Except for a mild refresh a couple of years ago, you might think the Explorer — once perhaps the most aspirational of SUVs — was quietly being put out to pasture, its days of exploration behind it. Not so. In fact, the 2011 model is something of a re-invention of the Explorer.

2011 Ford Explorer
2011 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge

Starting at $29,999 for the base front-wheel drive (FWD) version, and featuring unibody construction that replaces the Explorer’s (formerly) signature body-on-frame truck heritage, the 2011 Explorer is a clean-sheet re-think that both affirms the nameplate and modernizes the concept as it relates to an SUV target-market that wants better fuel economy, less truck-like hardware and ride.

Sharing its unibody platform with the Flex crossover and Taurus sedan, the Explorer is now a seven-passenger FWD or 4WD vehicle powered by a standard 3.5-litre V6 engine or, available later in 2011, an all-new 2.0-litre inline-four cylinder “Ecoboost” engine with turbocharging and direct fuel injection.

Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the V6 engine with twin independent variable valve timing delivers 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet torque. In comparison, the four-cylinder engine makes 237 hp at 5,500 r.p.m. and 250 lb-ft torque at a low 1,700 through 4,000 r.p.m. A V8 engine is no longer offered in the Explorer, although (with the V6) it is still rated to tow a 5,000 pound trailer. The Ecoboost engine is not regarded as a towing engine; focusing more on fuel economy.

2011 Ford Explorer
2011 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge

Fuel economy, which was not a strength of the outgoing Explorer, is improved by a claimed 20 per cent with the new V6 engine, which is estimated to return 11.9 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 L/100 km on the highway. The Ecoboost engine is expected to improve fuel economy by 30 per cent over the previous V6 model, but will be sold at a premium price compared with the 2011 model’s V6.

Other technologies that reduce fuel consumption include electric power assisted steering (EPAS), a variable displacement air conditioning compressor and a transmission that provides lower initial gears for improved acceleration from a standstill, and lower engine speeds when cruising.

Dimensionally, the 2011 Explorer is longer and wider than the previous generation, but it is 45 kilograms lighter. Ford reports that vehicle aerodynamics have improved by 12 per cent, and indeed the new Explorer does look sleeker than earlier generations, eschewing their boxy, but arguably distinctive, shape. Comparatively, the Explorer is notably larger than vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda Pilot, Dodge Journey and Toyota Highlander, but still smaller than the Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia.

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

Several new features are available as standard or optional equipment, including Curve Control, a standard feature that intervenes when the vehicle is travelling too fast in a corner, and Terrain Management, a standard component of the 4WD system that adjusts engine, transmission and braking operation through a console-mounted knob that enables the driver to select between Normal, Mud, Snow and Sand driving surfaces.

Other notable standard features include a capless fuel filler, tilt and telescoping steering column; vehicle stability control with Roll Stability Control; four-wheel disc brakes; MyKey owner control; four 12-volt power points, and power driver’s window with one-touch down.

Optional features, depending on trim level selected, include a Blind Spot Intervention System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert; Hill Descent Control; automatic park assist; adaptive cruise control with accident warning and brake support; DVD entertainment system; Technology Package; MyFord Touch driver interface; dual panel sunroof; rear outboard inflatable seatbelts (an industry first); 20-inch polished aluminum wheels and power liftgate.

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