Exploring Dubai: We Catch A Ride In Ford's 2011 Explorer Prototype

Rex Roy
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Dubai: It's a high-speed collision of Medieval culture and the 21st century in a land of ancient sand and freshly-grown skyscrapers. Rising out of the desert, the regional commercial center seems to have as many high-rises as Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Cincinnati combined. Its location on a peninsula jutting into the peaceful Gulf of Oman also attracts tourists who come as much for the available booze as they do for the shoreline.

So why is Ford testing their all-new 2011 Explorer 7000 miles from Dearborn, Michigan? Glad you asked. The United Arab Emirates and surrounding countries annually consume about 10,000 Explorers pear year, making this a major export market for the Chicago-built nameplate. Second, the region has some peculiar characteristics that define multiple worst-case scenarios for vehicular engineers.

For example, when humidity in the 40- to 60-percent range combines with summertime temperatures that reach as high as 52° Celsius, the local heat index eclipses even California's Death Valley. During our early August visit it was a relatively balmy 48°C/119°F with 50-percent humidity. The combination made for an oven-like heat index of 191°F.

If your AC will blow cold in Dubai in August, it'll blow cold anywhere, anytime.

Beyond the heat, the sand surrounding Dubai is different than North American crushed quartz. The grains are much finer, something closer to refined sugar. Especially when it's hot, the foreign sand takes on a slippery, oily consistency that seriously taxes powertrains.

Ford invited AutomobileMag.com out to this particularly foreboding spot to see how their new Explorer -- a vehicle that they're marketing as an SUV -- handled the challenges. Given that the 2011 edition is a textbook crossover that shares much with the 2010 Taurus, we came loaded with a healthy bit of skepticism.

We rode to the testing grounds south of Dubai in an appropriate vehicle, a 2010 Raptor. This truck seemed perfect for the environs and the AC blew cold the entire ride into desert. With the exception of a wild camel or two, the vistas were dull, mostly obscured by dust and haze. The sky looked as featureless as the 360° horizon of sand.

Our destination was a public area used for picnicking and off-roading in cooler months. The things that pass for entertainment some places...

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