Test Drive: 2011 Ford Explorer Limited

?Ford Reinvents Explorer SUV for 2011?

When Ford Motor Company first introduced its venerable Explorer SUV, it literally gave new definition to the segment. Now, for the 2011 model year, the Blue Oval team serves up a completely reinvented vehicle that?s sure to raise the bar yet again for the segment with significant gains in fuel economy and performance, improved driving dynamics and the implementation of the latest in technological features ? not to mention a total restyling that is both lighter and stronger than its predecessors.

This latest iteration Explorer will come in three levels of trim: Base, XLT and Limited, each providing an impressive inventory of standard equipment and features, along with a host of additional convenience and connectivity options., allowing the consumer to tailor a new Explorer to meet his or her wants and needs. Standard convenience fare includes: MyFord driver connect technology including 4.2-inch LCD screen; MyKey? owner control feature; air filtration system; media hub; Easy Fuel? capless fuel filler system; cruise control; power windows, with one-touch down for driver;? power door locks with child safety rear door locks; tilt/telescoping steering column; four 12-volt power points; and cargo hooks.

XLT trim adds: automatic headlamps; six-speed SelectShift Automatic?;?heated side view mirrors with LED signal indicators and security approach lamps; SecuriCode? keyless entry keypad; reverse sensing system; and perimeter alarm.

The top-of-the-line Explorer Limited all of the base and XKT features and equipment content, while adding: PowerFold side view mirrors with driver?s side memory; ambient lighting; adjustable pedals with memory functionality; cargo net;? dual-zone electronic temperature control; 10-way power driver?s seat, with power recline and lumbar; electrochromic interior mirror; rear view camera; remote start system; a 110-volt outlet; MyFord Touch driver connect technology; Intelligent Access with push-button start; and universal garage door opener.

Power for the 2011 Explorer is provided by a standard 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6 engine that produces 290 horsepower along with 255 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine delivers motive force to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. V-6 powered models are also available with Ford?s Intelligent 4WD system that adds Terrain Management, featuring situation-selectable range choices.

Ford?s advanced 2.0-liter EcoBoost, turbocharged and intercooled inline four-cylinder engine is optionally available. The EcoBoost powertrain delivers an estimated 237 horses at 5,500 rpm and 250 pound feet of torque in a range from 1,700 through 4,000 rpm. The EcoBoost engine employs direct injection of gasoline, Ti-VCT, direct-acting mechanical bucket (DAMB) valve lifters and four valves per cylinder, literally providing the power and performance of a normally aspirated V6 engine, but with the efficiency and fuel economy of a four cylinder.

Although instantly recognizable as a Ford product and more explicitly as an Explorer, the 2011 Ford Explorer showcases a bold and evocative new styling interpretation of an iconic SUV favorite. The lines are both agile and fluid, combining with muscular-toned sheet metal that delivers enhanced aerodynamics. The liftgate spoiler lip and flexible lower air dam are integrated into the fascia, harmonizing to provide wind tunnel-proven fuel economy. Blackened rockers move the eye upward, and strong, body-color C-pillars and blackened D-pillars are traditional Explorer cues, while the blackened A-pillars and B-pillars provide a fresh new wraparound daylight opening. Ford brand DNA is evidenced through wheel flares inspired by the current Mustang and a body-side undercut that follows current Taurus design protocol. Up front is a new interpretation of Ford?s signature three-bar grille, while below the bumper, the Ford DNA trapezoidal lower grille generates a visual continuity across the entire Ford line. A standard roof rack, rounded corners, shorter overhang, and aggressive wheels and tires serve up the rugged cues that customers recognize in a Ford SUV. Out back, LED stop lamps glow from a jewel-like taillamp cluster, and the Explorer name projects from the rear liftgate appliqu?.

Moving to the inside, the new Explorer provides seating for up to seven passengers in a comfortable and versatile three-row configuration. The entire interior package reflects detailed premium Euro-level craftsmanship, for a luxurious ambience indicative of more expensive vehicles in the class and worthy of global attention. The flow from the instrument panel into the doors is seamless and graceful, and the forward angled center stack emphasizes a sporty feel. With sensible positioning of gauges and?switchgear.

I experienced the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer in Limited trim an in a 4WD configuration. The exterior finish was Ingot Silver metallic, while the interior was executed in Charcoal Black perforated leather. The base price was set at $39,190 while options such as: Voice-Activated Navigation System; Luxury Seating Package with PowerFold? third row seat, power liftgate, Active Park Assist, Adaptive cruise control and collision warning, rain-sensing wipers, Blind Spot Warning System, HID projector headlamps, six–speed SelectShift automatic transmission, Trailer Tow Package and Destination and Delivery Charge, elevated the final sticker total to $44,565. Don?t want to spend that?much? Then consider the Base model, which begins at $28,995. And equip it the way you want.

SUMMARY: The 2011 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD has essentially changed everything, while compromising nothing. It is actually much larger than it appears to be, with bolder, more aggressive styling in an exceptionally attractive and sporty, yet luxurious package. The 3.5-liter V6 delivers a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy and the drag coefficient is twelve percent slipperier.

Riding on its optional 20-inch wheels and tires, road comfort is top-notch, and off road excursions result in increased security and confidence. Add NHTSA?s 5-star safety rating and that secure feeling becomes even more pronounced.

Other major accomplishments achieved in this new SUV include: new, more compliant suspension componentry, new Terrain Management System, Hill Descent Control, a tow capacity of up to 5,000 pounds, rear inflatable seatbelts Trailer Sway Control and a unique Curve Control System.

Bottom-line, the 2011 Ford Explorer delivers more than satisfactory levels of acceleration and sporty handling characteristics on road along with impressive off-road prowess with the 3.5-liter V-6. If on the other hand, off-roading is not in your future, The 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four banger will likely be the way to go when it becomes available.

Automotive journalists were afforded the opportunity to literally flog the new Explorer in a sand pit, spinning donuts and running figure eights, along with traversing a challenging off-road course with great aplomb. Oh, and the on-road experience went equally well.

More from Our Auto Expert