What a difference a decade makes. Once the poster child of the SUV segment (rear- or all-wheel drive, body-on-frame construction, V-6 or V-8 engine), the new Explorer, which went on sale less than a year ago, is now a front-wheel-drive, four- or six-cylinder, unibody crossover. It's a dramatic departure from the old Explorer, but Ford needed to do something in the face of the old model's bleeding sales. The gamble appears to have paid off, with year-to-date sales more than double those of 2010. The reinvented Explorer features improved fuel economy, higher-quality materials, and state-of-the-art technology. But it does have some shortcomings. Visibility from the driver's seat is not good due to the high beltline and the thick A-pillars. The ride and handling are improvements over the old Explorer, but driving this crossover is in general a ho-hum affair. Buyers can opt for either a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder or a 3.5-liter V-6, both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is available with the V-6. Options include MyFord Touch -- an eight-inch touch screen that integrates navigation, audio, climate, and phone functions -- which might be popular with tech-savvy buyers but comes with a huge learning curve. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, parallel-parking assist, and a power-folding third row are other popular options. Ford hopes this makeover will ensure the long-term survival of the Explorer, but it may end up cannibalizing sales from its already crossover-heavy lineup.
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