2011 Ford Explorer XLT: SUV Poised for Return Run at No. 1
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Explorer was first introduced as a trim package offered on Ford F-Series trucks from 1968 to 1986, but ever since the Ford Explorer became its own entity and replaced the Bronco II in the 1991 Blue Oval line-up, the mid-size SUV had been a top-seller and arguably was the vehicle that mainstreamed sports-utes. Through two decades and four generations, the Explorer was the No.1-selling SUV in America.
That winning streak came to an end last year, but Ford’s fifth generation Explorer, an all-new design manufactured in Chicago, is poised to return the Explorer to glory.
The 2011 Explorer has a look derived from the Explorer America concept vehicle of 2008 and improves its fuel economy, driving dynamics and terrain management system, encompassed by modern, weight-saving construction.
Explorer is also setting the trend in SUV safety with a segment-leading array of airbags including industry-first inflatable rear seat belts, Trinity front impact structure, AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control™ and Curve Control functionality. Explorer features MyFord Touch™ driver connect technology and SYNC® integrated communications and entertainment system to help keep a driver’s eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.
The Curve Control innovation senses when a driver is taking a curve too quickly and rapidly reduces engine torque and can apply four-wheel braking, slowing the vehicle by up to 10 mph in about one second. It is effective on dry or wet pavement, and is expected to be particularly useful when drivers are entering or exiting freeway on- or off-ramps with too much speed.
Explorer’s clean, angular design is set on a unitized steel body that measures 197.1 inches long, 90.2 inches wide including mirrors and 71.0 inches high on a 112.6-inch wheelbase. Exterior items include black lower front and rear bumpers, wheel lip moldings and bodyside cladding, chrome bodyside cladding accent, chrome door handles, Satin Silver grille, dual chrome exhaust tips, chrome liftgate, gloss black mirrors, heated with security approach lamps, fog lamps, automatic bi-functional projector beam halogen headlamps, LED taillamps, roof side rails (silver with black end caps).
Under the hood, the Explorer, available in front-wheel-drive and 4WD, gets its power from a 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The
aluminum block and head set-up delivers 290hp and 255 lbs-ft of torque and is economically rated at 17mpg in city driving and 25mpg on the highway. A week of mixed-use testing, which included some surface snow and ice, showed my examination Explorer achieving an average of 22.2mpg.
With excellent low-end torque and power available at all speeds with only minor hesitation, I was able to accelerate the 4905-lb SUV from zero to 60mph in 8 seconds flat, and ran the quarter-mile in 16.3.
Handling is carlike, with only minor top-wobble in quick esses, and I found the vehicle to be a capable performer on varied paths and terrain on- and off-road. Explorer is stable and able, smoothing out rough roads with a short/long arm, independent front suspension with a 32mm stabilizer bar, and an SR1 independent multi-link rear with coil-over shock absorbers. Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and 4-wheel ABS braking system are confident and competent.
Inside, the Explorer is roomy with seating for six or seven and measures 39.1 inches of front headroom with 40.5 inches in row two; legroom is 40.6 up front and 39.8 in the rear seats and shoulder room comes in at 61.3 and 61.0. The third row provides 37.8 inches of headroom, 33.2 inches of legroom and 50.8 inches of shoulder room.
Standard interior features include a medium light Stone interior that worked well with my test vehicle’s Tuxedo Black Metallic exterior. Front unique cloth bucket seats are standard as are second row 60/40 split fold flat bench seat and third row 50/50 split folding bench seat, manual single-zone climate control, air filtration system, rear auxiliary climate control, AM/FM single-disc CD player with 6 speakers, media hub with auxiliary input jack, SIRIUS Satellite radio, MyFord, cargo hook, leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control and audio controls, leather-trimmed shift knob, power windows and door locks, illuminated vanity mirrors, first row center floor console with wrapped armrest and storage bin and overhead console with dome and maplights and sunglass holder and integrated keyfob.
Safety items include front seat air bags, side impact air bags, safety canopy system, belt minder, LATCH for children, SOS Post Crash Alert System, traction control, shift-on-the-fly Terrain Control, securicode keyless entry pad, securilock passive anti-theft system, tire pressure monitoring system, battery-saver feature and perimeter alarm.
The 2011 Explorer XLT (4WD) is base priced at $33,190 plus destination charges of $805. The Power Liftgate added $495; dual-panel moonroof was $1595; blindspot information system added $495 and the Navi System was $795. Also optioned on my test ride was Package 202A for $2,500 that included Driver Connect, MyFord Touch with two LCD displays touch screen and voice activated controls, rear view camera, leather-trimmed heated front bucket seats, 10-way power adjustable driver seat and 6-way front passenger seat, for a sticker as tested of $39,875.
For under $40,000, Explorer is poised for a return to the top.
> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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