Ford is trying to reinvent its iconic Explorer — whose image was once tarnished by tire recalls and continues to be challenged by its image as an inefficient SUV — as a capable, but fuel-efficient family vehicle.
When Ford launches the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer this year, it will offer an optional four-cylinder engine for the first time.
On Monday, Ford said that 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, which pairs a turbocharger with direct gasoline injection, will deliver at least 30% better fuel economy than the outgoing version, making it the most fuel-efficient SUV in its class.
According to preliminary test results disclosed on the Explorer’s Facebook page, the EcoBoost engine will give the Explorer at least 19 m.p.g. in the city and 26 on the highway.
“That’s actually a pretty good selling point,” said Haig Stoddard, automotive analyst for IHS Automotive. “Gasoline prices probably will start going higher next year as the economy continues to improve.”
Ford plans to reveal the Explorer on Monday in a multi-city event and through social media.
While the EcoBoost engine will give the Explorer bragging rights to class-leading fuel efficiency, the V6 engine that comes standard in the Explorer will get 25% better fuel economy than the outgoing version. That would put the new V6 version at about 17.5 m.p.g. in the city and 25 m.p.g. on the highway.
The Dearborn automaker said it was able to improve the fuel economy by using lighter and stronger high-strength steels and an aluminum hood.
Still, some were expecting bigger gains.
“While it’s a good effort, the improvement should be seen as meeting pre-existing expectation rather than breaking new ground,” Dave Evans of Covington, La., wrote in an e-mail to the Free Press. He listed himself as a fan of the Explorer on Facebook.
And while Ford said the redesigned Explorer will be in dealerships later this year, Chrysler is launching its redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee this month. The Grand Cherokee’s 3.6-liter Pentastar engine will get 16 m.p.g. in the city and 23 m.p.g. on the highway.
The Explorer was the best-selling midsize SUV from 1995 to 2004 in the U.S., according to J.D. Power and Associates.
But a Firestone tire recall on the Explorer in 2000, volatile gas prices and the introduction of crossover vehicles took their toll on SUVs.
“For some customers it has baggage because they are going to think of it as a traditional SUV,” said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics.
And for those who loved the original Explorer, Hall said, “the question is whether they will embrace this vehicle like they did the previous one.”
Stoddard, however, forecasts that Ford will sell more than 130,000 Explorers in the U.S. in 2011.
“It is a significant part of their product portfolio,” Stoddard said.
Posted By: GC