From the driver’s seat, there is a huge expanse of dashboard and windshield leading to a lot of hood, but the corners of the vehicle drop off. Sightlines are pretty good out front but there is a large blind spot at the C-pillar. The interior is a big upgrade over the old Explorer. The optional Sony sound system does pretty much everything you could imagine and features 390 watts, twelve speakers, an eight-inch subwoofer, and two USB ports. To top it off, it’s finished in piano black which looks very classy. But the touch buttons take some getting used to. Of course, streaming your music is easy with the Sync voice-activated system.
On the road this new Explorer handles like none before it, with a supple ride, very good body control, and predictable dynamics. The ride is well mannered for a 4700-pound vehicle, and the new chassis prevents the dreaded bobble-head syndrome for occupants. But the electronically assisted power steering feels a bit too artificial. Ford’s new Curve Control feature measures steering input, vehicle speed, and yaw angle to apply brakes to numerous corners of the car to slow it down, whereas the electronic stability program applies the brake to one wheel at a time. We briefly encountered the Curve Control feature on our drive loop—not on purpose—and it did its job just fine.
Customers can choose from three trim levels: base model, XLT, and Limited. Pricing starts at $28,995 for base model, $31,995, and $37,995 for XLT and Limited respectively. Front-wheel drive is standard on all trim levels, four-wheel drive is a $2000 option.
The 2011 Ford Explorer is a well-executed version of the family crossover. Its main competitors are the Chevy Traverse, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot, and the Ford is at or near the top in terms of on-road behavior and interior refinement. As far as off-roading goes, Ford seems to be conceding that territory to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Toyota 4Runner.
That makes sense for Ford because research has shown on-road is where 99 percent of Explorer owners drive. After twenty years in the market, 96 percent of Americans know what an Explorer is; now it’s just a matter of getting people back into them. But even if Americans don’t embrace the new version, all is not lost, as the new Explorer will be exported from Chicago to 90 countries worldwide.