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2011 Ford Explorer LTD Review and Road Test By Larry Nutson +VIDEO

2011 Ford Explorer LTD (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Ford Explorer LTD

Ford Explore Specs, Comparisons and Prices - Ford Buyers Guide

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Ford boldly stated, "Ford Explorer, the vehicle that defined a segment, has been completely reinvented for 2011 to raise the bar on SUV efficiency, performance, safety, technology and capability." That's what Ford said they did. And in my opinion, that's what they did indeed do!

Watch the complete walk-around of the 2011 Ford Explorer with Ford's President of the Americas

My interest in driving the all-new Explorer was two fold. I wanted to see how well it fit in to the city environs of Chicago or for that matter any of the other 50 or so large cities in our United States. And also, I’ve had a string of personal-use Ford SUVs, most recently in 2009 an ’07 Edge. Prior to the Edge, an ‘04 and an ‘02 Explorer, and a little bit further back an Expedition. So I’m well-versed in Ford SUVs.

Coincidentally, the new Explorer is assembled in Chicago since the shift to unibody construction facilitated it being built alongside the Ford Flex and Taurus models.

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My test-car was a Limited model equipped with 4-wheel-drive, the 3.5L V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Base price for the LTD is $39,190. Also equipped was a $4,910 “rapid spec” option package with Nav system, luxury seating, power fold third row seats and power liftgate, active park assist and a few other items. Plus a trailer tow package ($570) and the white platinum paint ($495) brought the total to $45,160 including shipping.

Ford did a really nice job of packing the Explorer chock-full with new technology, equipment and features. So much so that to really understand how it all works requires that you sit in the vehicle with the owners manual in hand and just go through it all little by little. Most operations are very intuitive but some things require more concentration.

To this point, I believe, generally speaking for all car company’s products, new vehicles have become so sophisticated that upon taking delivery or perhaps within a couple weeks after, a dealer tutorial session is appropriate to make sure a new owner understands how everything works and is receiving maximum satisfaction and enjoyment from their new car.

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For those folks who don’t need 4WD, front wheel drive is available. The Explorer is offered in base, XLT and Limited models with prices starting at $28,995. Seating is for six or seven. The 3.5L V6 is rated at 290 HP with EPA fuel economy estimated of 17 city mpg and 23 highway mpg. I recall vividly my V8 equipped Explorers from days past and it was really tough to get 20 mpg on the highway. The V6 provides the same performance as the former V8 with better economy and can still tow a 5000 lb. trailer.

A new feature on Explorer 4WD models is a terrain management system. The traditional transfer case has been deep-sixed. Rather than the use of four-high, four-low and auto settings, Explorer terrain management is selectable by situation. The four settings – available by shift-on-the-fly – include normal, mud, sand and snow. Each setting provides unique engine behavior, throttle tip-in, transmission shift scheduling and calibrations for traction and stability control systems. Terrain management also includes Hill Descent Control, which provides engine braking to increase driver confidence and control when descending a steep incline.

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Electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) is the way to go today and not only reduces fuel consumption but facilitates the addition of other technology. Curve Control is a new feature that senses when a driver enters a turn too quickly and applies brake pressure to stabilize the vehicle.

In addition, EPAS enables the optional active park assist technology. When activated, the system scans for a suitable spot, calculates the trajectory, and steers the vehicle. The driver continues to control brake and throttle inputs, but the system steers the vehicle throughout the parking maneuver. I tried this, listening to the voice prompts, and it works.

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When it comes to creature comforts, the interior abounds. Fit and finish and material surfaces are top notch. The cabin is very quiet and a good job has been done in managing wind and tire noise. MyFord Touch driver connect technology and SYNC integrated communications and entertainment are a part of the new Explorer. A quick study guide came with my vehicle and after a short time I was managing audio, navigation and climate control fairly well. There has been some criticism of this “infotainment” system and I think a good dealer tutorial program would solve most of anyone’s issues.

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Overall, the new Explorer is light-years ahead of the previous generation. Driving dynamics are much improved. Space abounds on the inside. The power liftgate is wonderful when your arms are full and the power fold seat makes it easy especially for the ladies to fold down that third row for hauling lots of stuff. The rear vision camera helps greatly when parallel parking. And, where was the zoom feature that helps when connecting a trailer when I needed it years ago? At 90.2 inches wide to the mirrors, the Explorer will challenge you on narrow city streets. More than once I used the power-fold outside mirror feature when squeezing past a stopped delivery truck.

For 2012 model year the Explorer gets an expanded color palette and is the first Ford model in North America to offer an all-new Ford EcoBoost 2.0L, 240 HP four-cylinder engine. Available in front wheel drive, EPA estimates are 20 city mpg and 28 highway mpg. We hope to drive an Explorer with this engine very soon and provide out review.

Warranty coverage is 3 year/36,000 miles bumper to bumper, 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain and 5 year/60,000 mile roadside assist. Ford dealers abound across the U.S., therefore the ownership experience should be very convenient. In choosing a new vehicle all to often not enough emphasis is given to the convenience of getting needed service.

Ford Explorer: Better than ever.

Larry Nutson