By KBB.com Editors
Completely redesigned to better meet the wants and needs of today's increasingly sophisticated buyers, the 2011 Ford Explorer shares little but its name with a vehicle that ushered in the modern SUV era when it arrived 20 years ago. Still mid-size, the fifth-generation Explorer straddles the line between a traditional sport utility and contemporary crossover by moving from body-on-frame to unitized design. That transition yields a four-door/seven-passenger package which is significantly lighter yet stronger and more fuel-efficient than the 2010 iteration while providing greater comfort, luxury, and refinement plus state-of-the-art technology and safety features. Available in base/XLT/Limited trims, front- or four-wheel drive and offering a standard V6 engine, the 2011 Ford Explorer will face off against key rivals like the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Acadia, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner.You'll Like This Car If...
Those seeking a versatile mid-size vehicle that merges the most desirable functional elements of an SUV and a crossover with exceptional style, comfort and segment-leading fuel economy will find plenty to praise about the 2011 Ford Explorer lineup.You May Not Like This Car If...
Hard-core off-roaders are still likely to prefer conventional body-on-frame vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner – or unit-body alternatives like the Dodge Durango or Jeep Grand Cherokee that offer a dual-range 4WD system. Anyone needing to tow more than 5,000 pounds or wanting a rear-seat DVD entertainment system also should look elsewhereWhat's New for 2011
A top-to-bottom rethink of the Explorer formula results in a thoroughly contemporary and far more desirable take on the SUV/crossover concept, creating a package that should help win over new buyers as well as bring former owners back into the Blue Oval fold.Driving It Driving Impressions
For all of the noteworthy changes Ford wrought on the 2011 Explorer, the transformation in its dynamic character is arguably the most profound. Moving to a unit-body configuration endows this SUV/crossover with a far smoother, more compliant yet better-controlled ride. Match that with a bounty of standard computer-controlled handling aids, impressively weighted electrically-boosted power steering, capable anti-lock disc brakes and its world-exclusive Curve Control system and the new Explorer takes on any travel assignment with newfound confidence that belies its scale. Although ground clearance is a fairly modest 7.6 inches, our off-road experience in a four-wheel-drive variant proved conclusively that the new Terrain Management system will ensure the average Explorer owner successful access – and egress – when venturing into unpaved territory, as well. Factor in outstanding fuel economy, exceptional cabin comfort, user-focused functionality plus class-leading connectivity, and the 2011 Ford Explorer emerges as a most accommodating travelmate for its driver and passengers, alike.Favorite Features
My Ford Touch
This latest and most capable version of Ford's driver-connect technology is standard on the Explorer Limited and available on the XLT. It utilizes an even more advanced and expanded version of the automaker's SYNC voice-command system to allow and facilitate a broader range of input commands for the audio, navigation, climate control and phone systems.
A world-exclusive, this standard safety enhancement automatically senses when the vehicle is entering a given corner to quickly and automatically engage throttle and braking intervention to help keep it maintain the desired driving path.
A complete cabin recast puts even greater emphasis on style and comfort thanks to upgraded materials, exceptional fit/finish, lots more soft-touch surfaces and enhanced trim elements. The new instrument package, MyFord Connect (base) or available MyFord Touch (XLT/Limited) systems, a media hub, four 12V powerpoints and multiple stow cubbies add to the ambiance while decently supportive front buckets team with an adult-friendly 60/40 second-row bench and an adult-accepting 50/50 third tier across the line. Popping the Explorer's one-piece liftgate facilitates easy access to its 15.7 cubic-foot cargo bay, which can be expanded to a maximum of 80.7 cubic-feet by folding down both rows of rear seats.Exterior
Although its overall shape and scale carry over, the fully restyled 2011 Ford Explorer boasts a cleaner and classier appearance – along with 12-percent better aerodynamics. Slightly longer and lower with a significantly wider track, it backs that more assertive stance with greater flair thanks to more prominent body sculpting complemented by a rakish C-pillar and drama-boosting blackout A-, B- and D-pillar treatments. Slicker front and rear fascias gain higher-profile headlamp and tail lamp fitments while smartly flared fenderwells on the base, XLT and Limited trims are filled by 245/65, 245/60 and 255/50 tires on 17-inch steel wheels, 18-inch aluminum rims and 20-inch alloys, respectively.Notable Standard Equipment
In addition to its 290-horsepower V6/six-speed automatic transmission, the base Explorer boasts numerous power assists, MyFord driver connectivlty, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with media hub, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering column and more. The XLT adds interior/exterior trim embellishments, auto headlamps, fog lights, 18-inch wheels/tires, rearview camera with zoom function, premium cloth upholstery, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, SecuriCode keyless-entry pad and the SelectShift feature. Leather-upholstered, the Limited gets all that and the XLT's Driver Connect and Comfort Packages –plus a Sony premium audio system with HD Radio. Safety items include AdvanceTrak with Roll Stability Control and Curve Control, Hill Start Assist, antilock brakes, front/front-side/side-curtain airbags and a rollover sensor.Notable Optional Equipment
All Explorers offer four-wheel drive with multi-mode Terrain Management System and Hill Descent Control. Base model upgrades include SIRIUS Satellite Radio and a tow-prep package while XLT buyers can add the Driver Connect (MyFord Touch/SYNC, premium audio, dual-zone climate control and rear-view camera) and Comfort Packages (all that plus heated leather seats). The Limited's Luxury Seating Package (perforated leather, heated/cooled front buckets, power-folding third-row seat, power lift gate and voice-activated navigation system) is available with/without the 302A Group (Blind Spot Information System, adaptive cruise control, Auto Park, HID headlamps and rain-sensing wipers). Single XLT/Limited options include navigation, dual-panel power moonroof, power liftgate, inflatable second-row outboard seatbelts and the blind spot system.Under the Hood
The 2011 Explorer's standard engine is Ford's high-tech 3.5-liter Ti-VCT (twin-independent variable camshaft timing) V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Despite 80 more ponies than the outgoing 4.0-liter six – and just two less than the 4.6-liter V8 – it's also 25 percent more fuel efficient. Backed by a six-speed automatic, it earns class-leading 17/25 mpg city/highway EPA numbers in front-drive Explorers and 17/23 mpg marks in the 4WD versions, serves up 60 mph in roughly 8.0 seconds and gives the Explorer a 5,000-pound max-tow rating. "Some time next year," Ford will offer an optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that churns out 237 ponies and 250 pound-feet of twist. While limited to front-drive models, Ford anticipates this lighter-duty alternative will deliver 30-percent better fuel economy that the old V6.
3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6
290 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
255 lb-ft of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/25 (FWD), 17/23 (4WD)
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on the 2011 Ford Explorer starts at just under $29,000 for a base model with an Explorer XLT opening near $32,000 and the top-line Explorer Limited commanding close to $38,000. Opting for four-wheel drive will add another $2,000, but even a fully-loaded base Explorer should still slip in below $35,000. Although more extensive personalization choices on the XLT and Limited can add $4,000-$5,000 to their bottom lines, they remain solid buys relative to their peers when new. Before you head to the dealership to sure to check the Fair Purchase Price on kbb.com to ensure that you're getting the best deal at your local Ford dealership. When it comes to resale, KBB projects they'll also retain better-than-average residual values over time.