My first stint behind the wheel of a 2011 Ford Explorer was also my first interaction with the new MyFord Touch system that has made many enemies in the media over the last few months. I find the two to be an odd mix of old and new. While the infotainment system may be as new as it gets, the Explorer name has been around forever and platform is long in the tooth. I immediately wished that Ford had left the infotainment alone and invested in a new platform.
As soon as I opened the Explorer's door I felt like I was about to get into the old Ford Five Hundred. This platform's signature high beltline and overall largeness weren't very desirable when they came out and haven't aged gracefully. I first experienced the Ford Five Hundred and its bulky platform-mates in the 2005 model year. In the same way that the Ford Five Hundred paled in comparison with the Chrysler 300 when they debuted, the Explorer now pales in comparison to the Dodge Durango. Yes, the Explorer will do a great job moving people and stuff in all sorts of weather and over some minor off-roading situations (like an unpaved driveway) but don't expect to enjoy driving it.
I usually like cutting-edge infotainment systems because I find the convergence of cars and smart phones to be pretty intriguing. But Ford has gone too far by eliminating real knob or button controls for the HVAC system. I have never been this distracted driving another vehicle. In theory, an owner will be able to handle the vital functions through voice commands, but there's no substitute for the immediacy of a manual, tactile input. MyFord Touch smacks of being technology for technology's sake, and I think it inherently detracts from the driving experience.
The large-crossover segment is so full of great new vehicles that it's hard to recommend the Explorer to anyone other than a die-hard Ford fan. Aside from the powertrain and modest handling improvements, there's nothing in the Explorer package that significantly improves upon the Freestyle that debuted with this platform six years ago.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor