Friday, July 15, 2011

2011 Ford Explorer Limited AWD: A Game Changer in the Crossover Segment


Explorer’s Highlights: The Explorer no longer rides on a truck platform. It has moved from being classified as a SUV to a crossover. Thus, this allows the vehicle’s fuel-economy to improve by 25 percent.

Test Vehicle’s MSRP: $44,170 (Base Price of Explorer starts @ $29,185)

Major Standard Features: AM/FM/CD w/6 speakers; MP3 compatible; Hill Start Assist; Rollover Stability Control; trailer sway controls; SOS Post Alert Crash System; 17-inch wheels; tinted rear/side windows; cargo hooks; 6-way power driver’s seat; third row 50/50 split seats; tilt/telescopic steering wheel; a capless fuel filler door; MP3 compatible; and four 12-volt powerpoints

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 3.5, 6-cyl/290-hp

Standard Fuel Mileage: 17-city/23-highway

Competition: Chevy Traverse LTZ, Dodge Durango AWD, GMC Arcadia SLT, Honda Pilot 4WD Touring, Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring and Toyota Highlander 4WD Limited

What’s New: The 2011 Ford Explorer is all-new, inside and out. Not only is the vehicle totally redesigned, the vehicle switches from a truck-based platform to a car-based platform, since Ford realizes most folks will never take this vehicle off-road. And if they decide to go off road, Ford has a new terrain management system to address this issue.

Also Ford has many new first’s available in the reworked Explorer: an inflatable seat belt and a smartphone- like system to control the audio system, ventilation, seats and the nav system known as MyFordTouch.


Pros:

From the Explorer's new MyFordTouch to the vehicle’s soon to be available Electronic Parking Assist System, obviously this is the most advanced eight-passenger vehicle to date.

In fact, the new Explorer is so smart that its Curve Control technology senses when a driver is taking a curve too quickly and rapidly. When it does, the vehicle automatically reduces engine torque and apply four-wheel braking, slowing the vehicle by up to 10 mph in about one second. Now this is what we call a smart vehicle. The Curve Control technology is effective on dry or wet pavement, and is expected to be particularly useful when drivers are entering or exiting freeway on- or off-ramps with too much speed.

In addition to the Curve Control technology, Ford’s Electronic Park Assist System we mentioned earlier enables the optional active park assist technology. When activated, the system scans for a suitable parking spot, calculates the trajectory, and steers the vehicle. Go figure. The driver continues to control brake and throttle inputs, but the system steers the vehicle throughout the parking maneuver.

Now while the Explorer 4WD we reviewed lacked Ford’s new electronic parking system, it was equipped with the terrain management system. Replacing the traditional SUV transfer case, the new terrain management system takes the guesswork out of maximizing the use of the 4WD. Rather than employment of four-high, four-low and auto settings, the Explorer terrain management system is selectable by situation. The four settings – available as a shift-on-the-fly rotary dial – include normal, mud, sand and snow. So as one can tell, this Ford is capable of riding into any weather condition.

Moreover, our Explorer was equipped with Ford’s optional smartphone like audio and ventilation system. Ford has eliminated radio knobs and switches. Everything, we mean everything, including the heated (and a/c) seats can only be operated using the touchscreen. Now this is what we call futuristic.

And besides all of the technology integrated into the Explorer, which makes it one of the most advanced vehicles in its class, the new car-based platform makes this one smooth-riding vehicle. Furthermore, we found the optional Blind Spot Monitoring System, which electronically alerts the driver of objects in its blind spot before changing lanes, and the power liftgate one hot ride that meet the needs of its occupants.


Cons:

While we appreciate that this is one of the most advanced crossovers on the road today, there is a downside to having the latest tech gadgets. Like most folks who own a smartphone, we’ve come to realize they don’t always perform as designed.

Well, this happened to be the case with Ford’s high-tech, touchscreen audio system and heating/ventilation system known as MyFordTouch. Not only did it not always respond appropriately the technology was quite intimidating at first. We’re not sure if the world or all of Ford’s customers are ready to give up knobs, dials and switches. Personally, this new-technology is creating a huge learning curve for most non technical consumers not ready to embrace technology. In our books, we found the new touchscreen system to be quite annoying. Can we bring back the switches and knobs?

Also our eight-passenger Explorer seating arrangements were somewhat cramped, while attempting to sit in the kid friendly, split third-row seats. They were more suitable for Ford's new pintsized pitchman, comedian Kevin Hart. With the second-row seats being a split bench, we found that it was quite difficult to get to the third-row seats. And when the third rear seat headrests were in use, we found that they obstructed our view, while driving.

Furthermore, we were disappointed that our $40,000 plus top-of-the line Explorer we reviewed wasn’t equipped with a power roof. For this price point, it should have been included in the price.

The Verdict:

The fullsize Ford Explorer has been around since the early nineties. At the time the Explorer hit the market, the only other vehicle in its segment was the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now there are countless vehicles competing against the Ford. However, unlike the newcomers, Ford has managed to remain relevant at time when consumers are yearning for fuel-efficient vehicles. In fact, Ford has managed to do it all, creating a stylish, roomy, fuel-efficient, technically advanced vehicle that looks like a SUV, but rides like a car. Besides the MyFordTouch we cited earlier as an area of concern and the steep pricing, when loaded with all of the high-tech features, Ford is pulling out all of the stops in order to dominate the midsize crossover segment just as they did the midsize SUV segment.

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