2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD

Like resourceful mess hall chefs, Ford engineers have been able to whip up surprisingly tasty dishes out of ingredients most would have trashed. Fresh sheetmetal and an available EcoBoost engine turned the dowdy old Ford Five Hundred into the much swankier Taurus. A facelift and a heavy dose of green technology rocketed the Fusion ahead of most of its peers. A re-skin, careful suspension tuning, and a new engine were all it took to keep the Mustang in the running with the all-new Chevy Camaro.

With this Explorer though, we're seeing the limits of this strategy. The formerly body-on-frame vehicle can certifiably claim to be all new, but really, it's more like "all-different." The unibody platform, inherited from the old Five Hundred (and Volvos before that) is obviously better than the ancient body-on-frame architecture, but doesn't feel as polished or as well thought out as many competitors, particularly the new Chrysler products.

Though I'm on the other end of the growth chart from Eric Tingwall (I'm 5'5" and he's 6'2") I experienced the same discomfort in the cabin -- it feels huge but affords poor outward visibility. The cabin also suffers from Ford's newfound obsession with technology. Yes, we've all seen touch screens. Yes, they're super cool. Now can we please have some knobs back?

The Explorer travels down the road nicely enough, with a soft ride that will please most buyers. Like the mechanically similar Ford Flex, though, it is far too slow in sending power to its rear-wheels. We've become accustomed to all-wheel-drive systems that work seamlessly and inspire confidence. This one seems to operate on an "Emergencies Only" algorithm that lets the front tires squeal pulling away from stoplights. I wonder if this programming is done for fuel economy reasons. It's not worth it, in my opinion, as it cheapens the whole driving experience.

As others have noted, the Explorer will likely find many happy homes despite its flaws. And it is easy to appreciate why Ford thought it worthwhile to spin another product off this platform even as it (wisely) devotes serious resources to its excellent new small cars. Still, there are only so many times you can reheat the same old ingredients.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

It sounds like it would take a couple of weeks to get used to something like MyFord Touch. The new Explorer certainly looks good. I guess if you can explain why the current Camry, Corolla, and Accord sell in high volume, then it should be easy enough to understand that there simply may not be a good explanation for initial high sales of the Explorer.
My my my ... how very odd (usual) that every car magazine (including yours) heralded the new Explorer as the next best thing .... now nine months later it isn't ... yet they are selling everyone they make ... hmmm ...

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