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2011 Ford Explorer Preview

2011 Ford Explorer Preview

By Jeff Youngs, December 31, 2010
2011 Volkswagen Jetta Photo GalleryHighlights:
  • All-new redesign with new architecture and powertrain
  • Unibody construction, lower weight and improved fuel efficiency
  • Standard 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Available 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
  • Standard front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive
  • 4WD models offer Terrain Management System
  • V-6 models rated to tow 5,000 pounds
  • Assembled in the United States
  • Available in late 2010
IntroductionThe midsized Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle replaced the Ford Bronco II for the 1991 model year. The first-generation Explorer was based on the Ford Ranger pickup truck. As such, both models featured body-on-frame platforms, shared V-6 engines, and offered many similar options. Designed to compete against the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, a model launched years earlier, the 5-passenger Explorer was available in 2- or 4-door body styles and with a choice of rear- or 4-wheel drive (4WD). The standard engine was a 4.0-liter 6-cylinder rated at 155 horsepower.

The second-generation Ford Explorer debuted in 1995. The original truck-based front suspension was upgraded for a better ride, and the 2-door model was renamed the Ford Explorer Sport. An 8-cylinder engine option was added in 1996, and a full-time all-wheel-drive powertrain (improving on the part-time system) emerged on the upscale Eddie Bauer and Limited models.

The third-generation Ford Explorer appeared in 2002. The redesigned 4-door Explorer was fitted with an independent rear suspension to improve its ride (however, the Explorer Sport retained the live axle). While still offered with V-6 and V-8 engine choices, the truck-based model had grown to an increased 7-passenger capacity, thanks to its new third-row seating. The 2-door Explorer Sport was discontinued in 2003. The fourth-generation Ford Explorer, with redesigned rear suspension and a new one-piece rear door, debuted in 2006.

An all-new fifth-generation Ford Explorer debuts for the 2011 model year. Its arrival marks a radical departure from its previous generations as the new model features a unibody platform, front-wheel-drive powertrain, and a 4-cylinder base engine. It is expected to arrive in showrooms in late 2010.

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Design
2011 Volkswagen Jetta Photo GalleryThe all-new 2011 Ford Explorer features a completely redesigned chassis, body, and powertrain.The car-like unibody platform-shared with the Ford Taurus-is hidden beneath completely new sheetmetal and features a mix of traditional Explorer styling cues and thoroughly modern styling, according to Ford. The front end features Ford's now-familiar 3-bar grille, which is capped at each end by projector beam headlights. Character styling lines run down each side, with prominent body-color fender flares (reminiscent of earlier Explorers with contrasting flares).

On up-level trims, side mirrors feature integrated turn signals. As has been customary since the Explorer's launch two decades ago, the body's C-pillar is thick and painted, while the D-pillar is all but invisible. Dual exhaust pipes on the rear complete the new model's transformation.

A marked departure from its predecessor, the interior of the new 2011 Ford Explorer has a much more intimate "cockpit" feel, with a prominent center console separating the driver and front passenger. The air vents have been moved to the top of the center stack (above the multi-function screen) and the driver's primary instruments are viewed through the 3-spoke steering wheel, arranged to the left and right of the large circular speedometer. Second-row seats fold 60:40, with headrests that fold forward when dropped. Third-row passengers enjoy more amenities than ever before, with their own cupholders, lighting and storage bins.

Powertrain
Standard power for the new 2011 Ford Explorer comes in the form of a 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine rated at 290 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. The optional engine is a direct-injection, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder rated at 237 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque (the 2010 Ford Explorer V-6 was rated at 210 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque).

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Photo GalleryBoth engines are mated to a standard 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels (all-wheel drive is optional). According to Ford, the transmission has been designed with low initial gearing to improve acceleration off the line, and higher gearing at the top end to improve fuel efficiency. The Explorer V-6 models with the optional "intelligent 4WD" systems add Terrain Management (situation-selectable via a cockpit control for snow, sand, mud, and normal modes). Fuel efficiency figures have not been released, but Ford estimates that the new V-6 should deliver 20-percent better fuel economy versus the previous Explorer model.

The new Ford Explorer with the V-6 engine is rated to tow a 5,000-pound trailer. Included with the optional towing package is trailer sway control, a stability package that helps minimize trailer sway, thus helping the driver to keep the vehicle-and trailer-under control (the technology is shared with the Ford F-150). The transmission's tow/haul mode increases engine braking to help slow the vehicle and trailer when descending steep grades, says the automaker.

Models and Features
2011 Volkswagen Jetta Photo GalleryFord is offering the new 2011 Explorer in three different models: base, XLT, and Limited. Standard features on the base model include "MyFord" driver connect technology with a 4.2-inch LCD screen, a cabin air filtration system, media hub, "Easy Fuel" capless fuel filler system, cruise control, power windows (one-touch down for driver), power door locks, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, four 12-volt accessory plugs, and cargo hooks.

The XLT adds automatic headlamps, heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED signal indicators, "SecuriCode" keyless entry, reverse sensing system, a perimeter alarm, and more. The flagship Limited model adds folding side mirrors, ambient lighting, adjustable pedals with memory function, dual-zone climate control, 10-way power driver seat with recline and lumbar feature, rearview camera, remote start, and more.

Technology
While it may be disconcerting to loyalists, Ford's change to a unibody platform and a front-wheel-drive powertrain is designed to improve the 2011 Explorer's driving dynamics and efficiency according to the automaker. Vehicles with a traditional body-on-frame platform, as found on pickup trucks, tend to be heavy, and the frame rails can reduce the depth of the passenger cabin, leading to compromised interior space. A unibody platform, however, as found on passenger cars, is typically both lighter and stiffer. In addition, the passenger cabin and foot wells can be lower, thereby increasing passenger room.

The front-wheel-drive configuration of the new Explorer (with optional all-wheel drive) is more compact and lighter than that found on its predecessor (thanks to fewer parts) and it is much more efficient, according to Ford. Also, the all-new model boasts electric power-assisted steering and variable-displacement air conditioning to reduce engine load, and it's fitted with tires optimized to reduce rolling resistance. While the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer weighs 100 pounds less than last year's model, Ford says it delivers more power, better fuel economy, improved safety, and a longer list of standard features than the model it replaces.

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