Last week I spent several days with Ford in Dearborn checking out the all new 2011 Ford Explorer and about the only thing I didn’t get to do was drive the thing, but that will come soon. Today marked the official launch of the 2011 Ford Explorer and to say the Explorer is redesigned is an understatement. You can still see the family lines that the Explorer has had for many years, but the updated vehicle is much more attractive, athletic and feature packed than any previous Explorer.
Ford is doing a fantastic job with its recent vehicles with a level of build quality that is starting to reach into the field of premium brands like Lexus and Audi. Sitting at the Ford design center in Dearborn listening to the engineers and executives talk about all they put into the new Explorer was very impressive. Ford has pulled out all the stops and is looking to make the 2011 Explorer an SUV that those look for luxury will find appealing as well as the off-road enthusiast looking for a new 4x4 to take into the wilds biking or camping.
What really impressed me was how much thought and attention Ford put into the little details of the new Explorer. We expect Ford to look closely at things like the powertrain, and they did. What you might not think twice about are small things like how the buttons and switches in the Explorer feel when pressed. Ford specifically looked for switch gear for the new Explorer that offered tactile feedback and looked good doing it. Ford also spent a lot of time designing the interior with a premium feel. The little touches on the inside like real metal speaker grills and other things go a long way towards erasing the memories many have of cheap interiors in domestic cars with chrome plated plastic and horrible fit and finish.
Ford spent a great deal of time engineering things I honestly never really thought about like how the door sounds when it shuts. It probably comes as a surprise to many of you that Ford would even think about specifically engineering the doors and body of the 2011 Explorer so the mere sound of the door shutting exudes quality and strength, I know I was surprised. Ford also spent a great deal of time and money in the design and build processes to make the panel gaps on the body of the Explorer very tight and very uniform. All I can say is they did one hell of a job. I have known a few people who had Explorers over the years and I can honestly say I never liked the Explorer until now. Ford has completely changed my mind with the new 2011 Explorer and will make a whole new generation of SUV fans look at the Explorer that might not have even considered it in years past.
The thing that most impresses me about the attention to the small things on the Explorer is that if so much engineering, time, and passion went into switches and the door closing, just think of all that went into the major systems of the car like the drive train and safety gear.
Ford will be offering two engines to start with for the Explorer. The biggest of the motors will be a 3.5L V6 engine that produces 290hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. The V6 uses Ti-VCT to optimize fuel economy. Ford hasn’t offered up any fuel economy numbers at this point on the Explorer, but the company claims the new V6 is 20% more fuel efficient that the current Explorer.
The other engine that Ford will be offering in the 2011 Explorer is a new EcoBoost 2L I-4 that makes 237hp and 250lb.-ft. of torque. This little motor carriers the punch of a V6 while being 30% more fuel efficient than the current Explorer. This little tidbit will put the fuel economy of the EcoBoost in the Explorer in perspective for you. This three row seat SUV gets fuel economy in the same league as the 2010 Toyota Camry V6. Both the EcoBoost and the V6 engines use a 6-speed transmission.
In 4x4 versions, the level of tech that Ford uses is impressive. When you are, ready to off-road in the 2011 Explorer there is no pushing buttons and pulling levers. You reach over, twist a knob, and go. The Explorer takes care of all the work for you. The rotary dial has modes that the driver can choose for things like sand, snow, and mud. You pick what you want to drive in and the electronics adjust the transmission and shift points so the driver has power and control when needed.
Ford put a lot of thought into safety as well. The 2011 Explorer has the industries first seatbelt with an airbag as an option. In an accident, the rear outboard seatbelts have an airbag that inflates to reduce injury to passengers. The Explorer also has a button for Hill Descent Control to help the driver maintain control when coming down steep hills.
Another safety feature for the Explorer is Curve Control. This system will kick in when it detects that a driver is going into a curve too hot and might have a chance of running off the road or rolling the vehicle. The system detects the trajectory the driver intended to take around the corner by sensing steering input and activates the brakes to slow the vehicle and bring it back into the arc the driver wanted.
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The new 2011 Explorer appears to be a sure fire hit for Ford. The SUV looks fantastic, has tons of power, safety and off-road capability. Ford worked very hard to remake the 2011 Explorer and put major attention into the details big and small and it shows. One of the things that I took away from the few days I spent with the folks at Ford was how enthusiastic they are as a whole. From the executives down the PR folks wrangling the 70 or so car geeks attending around the halls of the Ford design center, everyone was excited about the Explorer and Ford in general. When you have a bunch of enthusiastic people working hard to make a vehicle the best it can be you can’t help but end up with something fantastic in the end. When the 2011 Explorer hits dealer showrooms go check it out, you will be impressed.