New Car: 2011 Ford Explorer

Why retain the name? Ford was more than happy to tell us that 96 percent of American consumers recognize the Explorer nameplate, something the company views as an automatic plus. We have to wonder, though, how many of those folks might have a negative perception of the Explorer name—after all, BP probably has similarly high brand recall, but it certainly wouldn’t qualify as the sort of marketing coup that translates to increased sales.

Speaking of petrochemicals, one of the new Explorer’s big “stories” (as PR folks like to say) is the smaller amount of fuel it’s expected to burn. Like the Taurus and Flex with which it shares its architecture, the Explorer will come standard with a 3.5-liter V-6, this one featuring variable valve timing for both camshafts. Output is higher than in other applications, at 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. Ford expects a minimum 20-percent fuel-mileage improvement from the 3.5-liter compared to the outgoing Explorer’s ancient 4.0-liter V-6, which scores 13 mpg city/19 highway in four-wheel-drive trim. (The 292-hp V-8, which will not return, was slightly more efficient than the 4.0-liter.)

As with all other D-platform offerings, which also include the Lincoln MKS and MKT, the Explorer’s optional engine will be one of Ford’s EcoBoost-branded mills. But it won’t be the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6; instead Ford plans to charge a premium for a turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It’s less powerful than the standard six, making 237 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. This one sounds like a tough sell to us, even with its expected fuel-economy boost of 30 percent over the outgoing 4.0-liter. Ford defends the 2.0-liter’s higher price by citing the complexity and cost associated with turbocharged engines. The fact that the engine is built in Spain and then shipped to Ford’s Chicago plant for installation can’t help, either.

Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive will be standard across the board, while all-wheel drive is only available with the 3.5-liter V-6. The all-wheel-drive system includes a knob to control a Range Rover–esque “Terrain Management system,” which allows the driver to tailor throttle response, shift pattern, stability and traction control, and all-wheel-drive torque split for specific situations. Snow mode reduces throttle sensitivity, makes shifts less aggressive, and upshifts sooner to keep the revs low. Choosing Sand mode provides more aggressive shifts at low speed, keeps the transmission in lower gears, and increases throttle sensitivity. The Mud setting disables traction control, has a less aggressive shift schedule than Sand, and raises the yaw threshold of the stability control to allow some sliding without getting bogged down. The everyday Normal setting has the all-wheel-drive system acting primarily through the front wheels, shuttling power to the rear wheels only when traction limits dictate. There’s no low range, but hill-descent control is standard.

Thanks to: Car and Driver


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