Although the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer is still under wraps, the automaker has confirmed that four-wheel-drive versions of its next-gen mid-size SUV will come with a new, more capable multi-mode terrain management control system. Going beyond conventional electronic stability control (ESC), this "intelligent" four-wheel-drive setup optimizes powertrain and brake mapping to serve up individualized settings for Normal, Snow, Sand, Mud, and Hill Descent conditions. Each mode is easily selectable from the centrally mounted controller in a manner and style not unlike the setup found in various Land Rover vehicles, not coincidentally, a brand Ford owned from 2000 to 2008.

Adding Convenience and Economy

Ford says this new take on traction control will lead to a number of on/off-road benefits while enhancing the operating efficiency of the 2011 Explorer. "Customers told us that flexibility and freedom to tackle any road, anytime is important to them," said Explorer Chief Nameplate Engineer Jim Holland. "We saw the opportunity to eliminate a compromise by adding an intuitive and efficient terrain management system that can demystify four-wheel-drive control and enable the driver to properly match 4WD traction to the situations and road conditions they encounter."

According to Ford, anecdotal customer feedback indicated that a number of drivers were uncertain about how to most effectively use a dual-range 4X4 system. This led engineers to toss the conventional transfer case in favor of the new intelligent terrain management setup. While that decision does place certain limitations on the absolute capability of the 2011 Explorer that won't impress hardcore boonie bounders, it allowed for a significant reduction in the vehicle's driveline mass -- and helps the V6 model to deliver an estimated 25-percent better fuel economy figures than its 2010 counterpart. In light of increasingly stringent CAFE requirements and rising gasoline prices, that's a tradeoff Ford sees as extremely worthwhile. Given its historic real-world usage pattern, the vast majority of 2011 Explorer buyers are likely to concur.

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