For 20 years, the Ford Explorer has been considered the people’s SUV, the one that took SUVs off dirt paths and onto pavement. The Ford Explorer is so synonymous with SUVs that it’s hard to imagine one that’s more crossover than rugged people mover. And yet, here it is, an all-new 2011 Explorer with a unibody frame instead of a body-on-frame design, a modification that sets the Explorer firmly in a gentler segment. It’s wider and longer now, but thanks to new sheet metal, it more closely resembles its smaller, redesigned brother, the Edge . And while it probably won't be crawling over boulders any time soon, the Explorer still has the chops to traverse a good amount of rough terrain, ford about 18 inches of water and tow 5,000 lbs. The cabin features a refined, upscale look with the coolest tech and touchscreen integration we’ve seen in a production vehicle in this price range. And should you find yourself unconvinced that this generation is set to become another bestseller, check out the fuel economy – up to 25 mpg on the highway. Turns out, a lot can change in 20 years.
What's to Like
Fuel economy numbers now rival the more traditional modes of family transportation – minivans and wagons. The third row of seating is surprisingly spacious enough to fit adults. The interior redesign has made for a more refined and sophisticated look with an abundance of soft-touch materials and tech.
What's Not to Like
Oddly enough, legroom in the second row isn’t quite roomy enough. The new MyFord Touch, while innovative, can be finicky and hard to navigate. Pricing can rise beyond what some might expect to pay for a car in this segment. Without a V-8 option and true SUV pedigree, some more hardcore drivers will want to look elsewhere.
The Explorer, by all intents and purposes, is no longer a true SUV, and luckily that means only good things for ride comfort. The suspension is supple, but not so loose that the car goes to pieces in corners. In fact, it handles irregularities in the road much better than some of the competition. Steering is direct and well-weighted for this particular segment, and acceleration – prompted through a fairly light throttle – remains strong despite the loss of a V-8 engine choice. Curve control is a brilliant addition to the Explorer’s safety lineup. The system will apply engine and wheel braking to control the vehicle in corners if you hit a bend too quickly, correcting the speed to help you stay within your lane and on the road. Another new addition, the terrain management system, allows you – with a twist of a knob – to select the type of terrain you’re about to tackle, and w...