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2011 Ford Explorer Up Close and Personal

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On: Fri, Aug 6, 2010 at 3:57PM | By: Chris Weiss


2011 Ford Explorer Up Close and Personal

Ford eschewed the usual auto show release when it unveiled the 2011 Explorer through Facebook back in July. However, that doesn't mean the automaker won't be spending plenty of time traveling the country to show off its latest creation. Demonstrating that the Explorer isn't going to shirk from the real outdoors just because it switched to a car platform and lost its transfer case, Ford had the new Explorer on display at the Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City this week. Outdoor Retailer is the outdoor sports industry's ground zero for new products, and Ford being there shows that the company is more than willing to defend the new SUV's versatility and outdoor worthiness.

The new Explorer's DNA is a careful compromise between performance and capability on one side and efficiency and practicality on the other. Certain voices within the media have been quick to question and criticize Ford's decision to trade in some of the Explorer's capability and power, but Ford remains confident in the move, feeling that its latest release reflects what consumers want: enough off-road and towing capability for the campground dirt road, or other light-duty off-roading, inside a slimmer, more economic ride.

Perhaps the greatest change that has led some to dismiss the Explorer as 'yet another crossover' is the switch from body-on-frame construction to a unitized platform shared with the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS. Craig Patterson, Ford's Explorer marketing manager, vehemently defends the move, comparing the Explorer to other models clearly categorized as SUVs:

"The people say: well, if it's body-on-frame then it's an SUV; if it's unibody then it's a crossover. Jeep Grand Cherokee [is a] unibody, always has been. That's a prototypical SUV. Range Rover: unibody, hardly a more capable truck out there. So it's not so much the platform as what you do with it to make it capable. It starts as the same platform as the Taurus or the MKS or the Flex, but then you do enough things to it—widen it, reinforce it, put the terrain management system in—to give it the capability of an SUV."

Ford's new Intelligent 4WD system replaces the familiar "4WD Low" and "4WD High" for an intuitive control set operated by a console-mounted dial. The system includes settings for normal, snow, sand, and mud for optimized responsiveness in each condition. Patterson explained that the customers Ford spoke to wanted the capability of 4WD, but didn't necessarily plan to use it regularly or know how to best use a traditional 4WD system. Ford's new Intelligent 4WD lets drivers fine-tune handling to meet the specific conditions they're facing with the simple twist of a dial.

In an attempt to deliver better fuel economy, Ford ditched the V8 engine option of previous Explorers, sticking to V6 and 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 engine options. The former delivers a claimed 20 percent boost in fuel efficiency over the outgoing Explorer, while the I-4 delivers a 30 percent increase.

Again, the move was about compromise. While towing was cut back to a maximum of 5,000 lbs., Ford wagered that for the average Explorer driver, 5,000 lbs. was ample, if not more than ample.

The 2011 Explorer will hit the market this winter and will carry a base price of $29,000. Options include Ford's MyFord Touch interface, a Blind Spot Detection System, and Intelligent Access with push-button start. The Ford Explorer Limited (pictured) is the top-of-the-range model and starts at $38,000.


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