ART DIRECTOR CHERYL L. BLAHNIK: Ever since our first-drive story in the magazine, I’ve thought the 2011 Ford Explorer looked really good. And with more and more popping up all over the roads, I’ve been looking forward to driving one.
As I said, it looks good. It’s probably the best-looking SUV that Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. has produced, with a sporty appearance and a hint of sophistication. The biggest surprise about this was how small it looks from a distance, but when you get inside, you realize that it is big and could easily handle a large family or a soccer team.
Another pleasant surprise was the interior’s clean design. I’m getting the hang of MyFord Touch, and I’m sure owners eventually will learn to work with it easily. The center stack is also slick.
When it comes to driving the Explorer, it does feel big. Compared with the outgoing model, the 2011 version is 3.7 inches longer and 5.2 inches wider. Thankfully, the V6 provides plenty of power, the car handles well and the ride is smooth.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Overall, I like the Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. Explorer. It’s handsome, it looks good inside, and it’s composed and quiet on the road, thanks to the rock-solid chassis (the one that dates to the Volvo S80).
I thought the ride/handling mix was near perfect as utes go, soft but not too soft, and it actually corners-again, keeping in mind one is in a SUV. Wind and road noise were minimal.
The interior was quite nice with comfortable seats and good build quality. Dare I say I’m getting used to MyFord Touch? Not that I like it but I can at least perform rudimentary tasks without getting out the owner’s manual now. That’s really as close as I get to a complaint with the new Explorer.
Overall, this is a fine people hauler and stuff hauler. If you prefer your ute to have a more carlike ride, this is a refined choice.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: I, too, have been anticipating a turn behind the wheel of a 2011 Ford Explorer, and I wasn’t disappointed. The thing that struck me over and over again is how quiet this SUV is on the road, even at speed on Detroit highways. Wind noise, tire noise and road rumble were as close to absent as I’ve heard from anything in a long time. I’m not surprised Ford attempted to create a silent interior as its internal studies show that consumers equate a quiet vehicle to a high-quality vehicle. What surprises me is how well Ford succeeded.
The interior is beautifully finished, but if I were to call one my own, it would have to be in a color other than black, and probably with the panoramic moonroof. Because of the new Explorer’s roof curvature, the black interior–particularly the headliner–made the inside very dark.
All the better to see your MyFord Touch screens? Perhaps. I’m about as familiar as anyone on staff with the three-screen implementation found on the Explorer and the Edge, and like Wes, I find it pretty easy to get accustomed to. Phone pairing was a snap, and I still think the “four corners” information grouping is a good way to present things. Finally, while it isn’t exactly related to functionality, the system looks fantastic and really presents a cutting-edge appearance.
One aside: The inflatable rear safety belts were a bit of a puzzler at first while trying to install my daughter’s booster seat. Once I discovered I could pull the belt past the airbag part and slip it around the belt holder on the booster, it fit fine. The buckle is also unusual and required some finesse to fasten. Nothing unmanageable, but having a learning curve for rear seat belts is another place where Ford runs the risk of outsmarting its customers.
Overall, the new Explorer is a great-looking vehicle and an impressive package that I enjoyed more with every moment behind the wheel. This is an outstanding redesign.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR–AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: This 2011 Ford Explorer Limited feels humongous. At 4,695 pounds, it’s nearly as heavy as the heaviest of the outgoing Explorers. As noted by Blahnik, it’s also almost four inches longer and five inches wider. Didn’t the Explorer fill the midsize-SUV niche at some point? I parked it next to our long-term Infiniti QX56 in the AutoWeek garage–a vehicle routinely described as a behemoth–and the new Explorer didn’t appear to give up much in size, even though the mongo QX is about four inches taller and about 11 inches longer.
That feeling of hugeness continues inside, where the pillars are clearly designed to protect against the kind of roof crush that only an escapee from Jurassic Park could administer. Those tree-trunk A- and B-pillars bring new meaning to the word “pillar.”
Thankfully, all that massiveness doesn’t hurt the vehicle’s ride, handling and steering, which are nicely tuned and dialed in with this new unibody chassis to make the Explorer drive smaller than it looks and feels. The vehicle runs quiet and steady, regardless of road surface.
Though this V6 seems capable enough, it starts to thrash at times trying to get the vehicle going. Clearly there’s room for a more powerful turbo engine, but I’m not sure the Explorer brand can sustain a higher sticker price to accommodate a more expensive engine. I also found the throttle tip-in a little too touchy, especially when running in manual mode.
The active cruise control is a mixed bag–sometimes it works well and holds a good gap, but other times it feels less than dependable, as though it isn’t going to bring the brakes early enough to slow down in time to avoid a rear-ender. It also won’t work at low speeds, like Mercedes-Benz’s Distronic Plus.
I’m also torn on the audio/nav/HVAC interface. It looks great–like something out of Cupertino–and works reasonably intuitively. But the touch-sensitive buttons are a tad too touchy sometimes and not sensitive enough at other times, seemingly depending on the length of your fingernails. The whole thing feels like I want a remote control for it.
Overall, this is great new vehicle for Ford, but it’s a little more vehicle than some might want in an Explorer. I guess that’s why the company offers the Edge, but that’s hardly the rugged suburban ute as defined by the Explorer.
EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR KEN ROSS: I had the chance to do a back-to-back drive of our long-term Jeep Grand Cherokee and this new 2011 Ford Explorer Limited. Both vehicles have gone through a much-needed redesign from the ground up within the last two years. The Cherokee, still collecting alimony from its past relationship with Mercedes-Benz, has done pretty well for itself with a chassis borrowed from the ML, and then you throw in the new suspension and it creates a whole new ride and feel. The Explorer riding on a modified Taurus platform and a reworked rear suspension may not be the off-road equivalent of the Cherokee, but it holds its own against the pothole jungles around Detroit.
The vehicle specs are almost identical for both SUVs, so the only real differences show up in exterior and interior design, and the clear winner in that area is the Explorer. Sure, the Jeep is a great improvement over the old model and is functional and ergonomically correct, but the reality is that Jeep has simply caught up to the rest of the automotive world. Ford, on the other hand, has gone all Star Trek and introduced a system that you might need a second officer to help you navigate. Add in the third-row of seats in the Explorer, and it’s a winner.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: I waited a long time to get finally get into the 2011 Ford Explorer and came away with mixed reviews. I really like the styling. It’s one of the slickest-looking sport utes on the market today. But I cannot get over just how big this thing drives. The A-pillars are massive, and the vehicle feels big in your hands, and it drives big.
The overall ride is quite pleasant for a ute, with comfortable seats and a relatively quiet interior. I couldn’t, however, find a comfortable seat height for driving that allowed me to rest my left arm on the door armrest. I felt uncomfortable the entire time I was driving. Lowering the seat to use the armrest made it difficult to see over the hood and down the road, while raising the seat for the proper driving position made it uncomfortable. An odd combination I have not encountered before.
I’m still not down with MyFord Touch. I guess I haven’t yet had enough experience with it to be comfortable, but I’m constantly pushing the wrong buttons. Plus, the buttons on the steering wheel with arrows are not marked as to what exactly they are controlling. Again, you’d figure this out driving it a few days in a row, but after one night, it wasn’t enough to figure it out.
While I liked this quite a lot, I’m not sure I’d drop almost $50 large on an Explorer. If it were between this and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee–and maybe that’s a poor comparison because the Jeep doesn’t have a third row–you’d find the Jeep in my garage.
2011 Ford Explorer Limited
Base Price: $39,995
As-Tested Price: $46,520
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6; 4WD, six-speed automatic
Output: 290 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 255 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,695 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 19/18.8 mpg
Options: Rapid spec 4WD 302A-Limited including voice-activated navigation system, luxury seating package, power-fold third-row seat, power liftgate, active park assist, adaptive cruise/collision warning, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring system, HID projector headlamps ($4,910); second-row dual bucket seats ($750); trailer tow package including class III receiver hitch, selectshift automatic transmission, engine-oil cooler, tire mobility kit, four- and seven-pin wiring connectors ($570); rear inflatable belts ($195); second-row console ($100)