In 1991 Ford was about to become a World Champion. The brand had the bases loaded with the top selling Taurus which was about get a facelift, the Mustang which was at its five-point-oh peak, and the Thunderbird SC which offered unique European grand touring sophistication.
Finally, the new 1991 Explorer was at bat and about to hit a grand slam out of the park. In a remarkably short time the Explorer became the vehicle to have. People could not get enough of it, often trading in premium sedans for the sharp looking sport utility vehicle, starting a new craze. It was the best of times.
TDS Preview of Dramatic Things To Come
Ten years later, in 2001, Ford did not even make the playoffs. The Taurus was on the disabled list and about to undergo an unsuccessful surgery. Mustang was experimenting with independent rear suspension and Thunderbird was about come out of retirement, only to disappoint its once loving fans.
After years of living the highlife, the Explorer was in court, defending itself against roll-over allegations which resulted in a switch to independent rear suspension. In an attempt to remain relevant, the Explorer received a facelift and third row seat augmentation.
Sadly, it was all for naught. Spurred by the rising cost of fuel and general dislike toward large SUVs, sales of the body-on-frame Explorer dropped substantially from almost half million in 1999 to less than one hundred thousand in 2008. It was the worst of times.
TDS Preview of Happy Things Come
It’s 2011 and Ford is hoping for a revival of its 1991 season. Bases are loaded with a five-point-oh Mustang sporting over 400-horsepower and a chassis, which despite using the venerable live axle, has been hailed so good that some are comparing it against the best of German sport coupes. The Taurus has been making a comeback of its own, with a handsome body, availability of all-wheel-drive and hot twin-turbo SHO. The T-bird is long dead, but its European shoes are being filled by a new Fiesta, which is aiming at the Rookie of The year Award.
Finally, at bat is the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer. The body-on-frame configuration has replaced with a modern unibody design. Gone are the old SOHC V6 and V8 engines, replaced with new four- and six-cylinder engines. Those engines, now transversely-mounted, power either front (4- or 6-cylinder) or all four (6-cylinder only) wheels. Both engines use direct fuel injection and the four is turbocharged, which Ford earth-lovingly calls Ecoboost.
The interior looks modern and minimalistic. Controls for audio, climate control, and nav are accessed through the touch-screen display. Redundant controls are on the steering wheel and those correspond to two LCD screens, on each side of the speedometer. Additionally, hard buttons are located below the screen, however they are not really buttons but rather markings on flat surface which cannot be detected without taking eyes off the road – good looks but poor execution.
Second row seat does not slide, but splits 60/40 and does not offer a center/ski pass-thru. Two captain’s chairs with a center console are optional. I am not sure if the center console is removable, which would allow kids easy access to third row.
Third row-seat can be folded or stowed-away in the floor near the tailgate (where a full-size spare on a steel rim resides). Power folding rear seats are available for the lazy (truth be told, it’s nice to have when juggling kids and bags). Once stored away and second row folded, the Explorer offers a long and flat loading surface. Not having to remove any headrests when folding the two rows of seats earns Explorer an RBI.
|2011 Ford Explorer||2011 Honda Pilot||2010 Toyota Highlander||2011 GMC Acadia|
|Minimum Running Ground Clearance [in]||7.6||8.0||8.1||7.4|
|Head Room – First Row [in]||41.4||39.3||40.6||40.4|
|Head Room – Second Row [in]||40.5||39.8||40.1||39.3|
|Head Room – Third Row [in]||37.8||38.2||36.3||38.4|
|Leg Room – First Row [in]||40.6||41.4||43.2||41.3|
|Leg Room – Second Row [in]||39.8||38.5||38.3||36.9|
|Leg Room – Third Row [in]||33.2||32.1||29.9||33.2|
|Passenger Volume [cu. ft.]||151.7||152.7||145.7||154.0|
|Cargo Volume Behind First Row [cu. ft.]||80.7||87.0||95.4||116.9|
|Cargo Volume Behind Third Row [cu. ft.]||21.0||18.0||10.3||24.1|
|Fuel capacity (gal.)||18.6||21.0||19.2||22.0|
|Curb Weight [lb.]||N/A||4561||4320||4857|
In terms of options, the Explorer offers almost everything one could imagine: dual panel panoramic sunroof, HIDs, power tailgate, blind spot detection (should be standard if you ask me), 120vAC outlet, navigation system, back-up camera (sadly, available only with nav system), and revolutionary rear seat-belt airbags.
Notably absent, but thrown into the accessory bin, is an integrated rear-seat entertainment system. Two screens in headrests with individual DVD players, headphones, remotes and RCA video-game inputs. Seems like a after-thought and steeply priced at over $2000 (that buys one hellova’ home theater system these days).
TDS New Happy Explorer Discussing Its Bright Future
Twenty years ago Explorer created an extraordinary vehicle market. Unfortunately neither time nor competition has stood still, but the Ford vehicle design team sure did. Now they regrouped, started with a blank computer screen and created this. The 2011 Explorer has all the bases of a proper family vehicle covered. Its success depends on many things, some of which are out of Ford’s control, such as gas prices and economy. Will it hit the grand slam home-run in the bottom of ninth? We shall see.