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Mora The Explorer: The 2011 Ford Explorer

The 2011 Ford Explorer

I must say that after seeing photos of the new Ford Explorer in print and on the web, I assumed it was smaller than the previous model. Maybe it was its resemblance to the smaller Ford Edge that threw me off. Because the new Explorer is definitely bigger. Bigger and better, I might add.

Better looking? Yes, by a mile in my book. Ford stylists went back to square one and came up with a more modern, less truck-looking SUV this time around. Which is only fitting because the new Explorer is less truck than the old ones were. Going back to the original 1991 model, one which many will argue started the whole SUV craze, it was based on the Ranger pickup truck and came in two- and four-door models in rear- or four-wheel drive. And like any good truck, it rode like…a truck. But, this is what people wanted. Then. Now, not so much. Enter the new 2011 Explorer. Ford ditched the truck-based body-on-frame design and replaced it with a unitized body structure whose architecture is shared with both the Ford Taurus and Flex (it’s even built on the same assembly line in Chicago as the Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedans). All of this makes the Explorer more car-like, which is the industry trend. Ford isn’t going so far as calling it a crossover, but it’s pretty darn close.

Earlier I mentioned its size. Photos don’t tell the whole story, but the 2011 model is both wider and longer than the 2010 while the wheelbase and overall length are a tad shorter and the height is down a couple of inches. And the 2011 Explorer has a handy third row seat which even I could comfortably sit in, although I was skeptical at first. I managed to drag Laura Tripi away from her desk at West-Herr Ford in Amherst long enough to show me the new Explorer. She told me it was easy getting back there in that third row, but I wasn’t even going to try at first. Once she flipped the second row out of the way it didn’t look so bad, so in I climbed. The interior ceiling is cleverly sculpted to give more headroom way in the back, and even with the second row returned to its upright position, I still felt comfortable enough back there to make it useful. And there’s still room behind the third row for some of your stuff.

Unlike the old rear-wheel drive Explorer, the new one comes in either front- or four-wheel drive. The 4WD model has a handy dial on the center console, used to choose your road condition: mud, snow, sand, or normal highway driving. There’s also a hill descent control to help maintain speed on a steep decline without having to ride the brake pedal. The six-speed automatic transmission lever is console mounted (also manually shiftable on XLT and Limited models), and connected to a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 290 horsepower (a 2.0-liter EcoBoost direct-inject turbocharged four-cylinder engine will be optional for 2012). This time around there’s no V-8 even offered (nor is one needed). The V-6 engine is EPA-rated 17/25 city/highway miles per gallon.

Some of the many handy features include steering wheel controls to help scroll through the menus on the dash-mounted eight-inch touch screen, which contains controls for the entertainment system and the HVAC; a/c with auxiliary rear controls; and LED taillights. Available equipment includes inflatable shoulder belts for the outboard second-row seats; active park assist (basically a hands-off parallel parking system); a blind spot information system which sees traffic that you may not; and 10-way power heated and cooled front seats. Pricing starts at $28,995 for the V-6 base Explorer and tops out at $37,995 for the Limited.

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