Monday, May 30, 2011

Auto: 2011 Ford Explorer Limited 4WD

Out of the Woods: Can the Explorer, once the bestselling SUV in the U.S., find its way back to sales success?

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 6-passenger, 5-door wagon

PRICE AS TESTED: $50,435 (base price: $39,995)

ENGINE TYPE: V-6, aluminum block and heads

Displacement: 213 cu in, 3496 cc
Power (SAE net): 290 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 255 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manumatic shifting

DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 112.6 in Length: 197.1 in
Width: 78.9 in Height: 71.0 in
Curb weight: 4900 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 7.5 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 21.3 sec
Street start, 5–60 mph: 7.9 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.0 sec @ 89 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 108 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 174 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.77 g
*Stability-control-inhibited.
FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city/highway driving: 17/25 mpg
C/D observed: 18 mpg



BY MARK GILLIES, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARC URBANO
December 2010




At the end of the 1990s and into this millennium, the Ford Explorer was a giant profit center for the Ford Motor Company. The Explorer was the bestselling non-pickup truck in North America, finding 445,157 buyers in calendar  year 2000. By comparison, the Camry, Toyota’s star, posted  422,961 sales.

That was before the Explorer went from hero to zero, courtesy of the Ford/Firestone tire debacle. For those with short memories, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) went on a blue-oval witch hunt in 2000 after Explorers started rolling over with monotonous regularity. Firestone Wilderness AT 15-inch tires would suffer tread separation if they were overloaded and inadequately inflated, especially in hot climates, and unskilled drivers would end up on their roofs. A Car and Driver experiment showed that even if the rubber went pop!, a competent driver could bring an Explorer to a halt without crashing, but by then the Explorer’s reputation was already blown like so many Firestone tires. Predictably, sales deflated, too. By 2005, Ford sold about half as many of the SUVs as it did in 2000. And in 2010, that number was down to about 55,000, 12 percent of what the company did a decade ago.


While Ford was busy watching Explorer sales slide during the Aughts, the segment’s center of gravity began to shift. It moved away from body-on-frame, pickup-based SUVs like the Explorer to car-based crossovers that offer less towing and off-road capability but better road manners, gas mileage, and comfort.

Finally recognizing this trend, the all-new 2011 Explorer shares it underpinnings with the Ford Flex and Taurus and the Lincoln MKS and MKT. (This platform has its roots in the first-gen Volvo S80, so it’s not exactly a spring chicken.) At 197.1 inches, the Explorer is 3.7 inches longer than the old vehicle and is 5.2 inches wider, at 78.9 inches. It’s also 159 pounds lighter than the V-8 Eddie Bauer Explorer we tested in 2006. Mind you, it’s still a porker, at 4900 pounds, or 212 pounds more than a Honda Pilot Touring 4WD. The bigger exterior translates to more head and shoulder room in the front two rows, as well as 21 cubic feet of luggage space behind the third row, up from 14. But the old vehicle had 84 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the front seats compared with the new one’s 81.


Unlike previous Explorers, which could be optioned with a V-8 in place of a base V-6—an engine nearly as old as the city of Cologne, Germany, where it was built—the new Explorer will offer V-6 and four-cylinder engines. The new 3.5-liter V-6 makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, down from the 4.6-liter V-8’s 292 ponies and 315 pound-feet. Ford will introduce an optional 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder in 2011, producing an estimated 237 horsepower and 250 pound-feet, up from the old V-6’s ratings of 210 and 254, respectively. All models get a standard six-speed automatic transmission, whereas the previous V-6 had a five-speed. Fully equipped, the new Explorer can tow 5000 pounds, down from the 7115-pound rating of the 2010 V-8 model. Towing capacity for the four-cylinder is 2000 pounds, enough to haul a Jet Ski or a snowmobile but not much more.

Base Explorers are now front-wheel drive, a dramatic shift away from the old rear-drive layout. The optional $2000 all-wheel-drive system is biased toward the front wheels in steady-state driving, but Ford says that the system can transfer up to 90 percent of available torque to the rear wheels when needed. With hill-descent control and “terrain management,” the AWD setup is similar to the system in Land Rovers, offering four driver-selectable modes: normal, mud/ruts, sand, and snow.


The Explorer has a control-arm suspension at the front and a multilink layout at the rear. Compared with its platform-mate the Flex, however, the Explorer gets a number of changes for increased durability. Up front, there’s a new cradle for the suspension and engine, along with new control arms, knuckles, struts, and wheel bearings. At the back, there’s a new upright and the driveshafts are beefier. Electric power steering replaces a hydraulic rack.

Understandably, Ford is sensitive to Explorer safety. Thus, the new vehicle has a flotilla of airbags and stability-control programs. Ford crows about its available second-row inflatable seatbelts ($195) that spread impact forces more evenly across the body than a conventional belt does, which is especially beneficial to kids and “mature” (a.k.a. old) people. And Curve Control, which has the ability to project the vehicle’s path and apply the brakes before it starts to slide off the road, is essentially a more sophisticated form of stability control.

There are three trim levels: base, XLT, and Limited. Our tony Limited 4WD tester had a base price of $39,995 but was optioned up to $50,435—Acura MDX money. Limited models come very well equipped, with features such as standard leather seats, 20-inch wheels and tires, and a rear-backup camera. A $4000 package adds a power-folding third-row seat, heated and cooled front thrones, voice-activated navigation, a power liftgate, active park assist, HID headlights, and adaptive cruise control and collision warning. Other goodies include second-row captain’s chairs with a console ($850 for both), a dual-panel sunroof ($1595), a headrest-mounted DVD entertainment system ($1995), and polished aluminum wheels ($595). The very well-equipped Honda Pilot Touring model, the most expensive in its lineup, starts at $41,175, although it doesn’t have all the electric gizmos and safety nets the Explorer boasts.


The Explorer certainly feels like an expensive vehicle. The interior is swathed in soft-touch materials, and the fit and finish is excellent. The gauge cluster is simple, and an LCD screen to the left of the speedometer is reconfigurable to show a tachometer, a fuel gauge, a coolant-temperature readout, or all-wheel-drive torque splits. With the optional MyFord touch system (standard on the Limited, optional on XLT, and unavailable on base models), the color-coded audio, navigation, phone, and climate settings on the screen in the center stack are also shown in a second instrument-panel LCD. Changing settings can be done by touching the slow-to-respond, main eight-inch screen or by using overly sensitive buttons located directly underneath. Legroom in the front and middle rows is generous, but the third row is tight for grown-ups.


The Explorer initially feels imposing from behind the wheel but drives smaller as the miles pile on. The ride is supple, and the vehicle is composed when being hurled around corners, thanks to direct and accurate steering and a well-controlled body. Too bad the stability system cuts in so early and can’t be switched off, or this thing could hang serious tail. The V-6 in the model we drove was unobtrusive most of the time—the Explorer is quieter at 70 mph and wide-open throttle than a Pilot—but didn’t sound particularly happy at the top end. We also experienced some tire slap over breaks in pavement.


Performance is solid, with 0 to 60 mph coming up in 7.5 seconds and the standing quarter-mile arriving in 16.0 seconds at 89 mph, both of which are quicker than a Pilot Touring and the last V-8 Explorer we tested. Ford is addressing the abysmal braking performance of its SUVs—the Edge now stops decently, and this Explorer went from 70 mph to zero in 174 feet, a 20-foot improvement over the previous model. Despite Ford’s claims that the new engine is 32 percent more efficient than the old V-8, we got only 18 mpg out of the Explorer. While that’s better than the 16 mpg we got in the previous truck, it’s still 2 mpg off the last Pilot we tested.

The Explorer isn’t as light on its feet as the Honda, either, but it’s undeniably an impressive machine. Our main reservation, and it’s one that applies to most new Fords, is that it gets pricey when optioned out. Now that this market segment is so crowded, it will be hard to see the Explorer recapturing the sales volumes of yore. But the combination of its all-around goodness, the latent equity in the Explorer name, and the current goodwill factor surrounding Ford will make this new SUV a solid player.




PRICE RANGE WITH OPTIONS

$29185 Ford Explorer FWD 4dr Base

4-Door Front Wheel Drive SUV, 290 bhp, 255 lb-ft, 6-sp Automatic, 17/25 mpg


$31185 Ford Explorer 4WD 4dr Base

4-Door Four Wheel Drive SUV, 290 bhp, 255 lb-ft, 6-sp Automatic, 17/23 mpg


$32345 Ford Explorer FWD 4dr XLT

4-Door Front Wheel Drive SUV, 290 bhp, 255 lb-ft, 6-sp Automatic, 17/25 mpg


$34345 Ford Explorer 4WD 4dr XLT

4-Door Four Wheel Drive SUV, 290 bhp, 255 lb-ft, 6-sp Automatic, 17/23 mpg


$38360 Ford  Explorer FWD 4dr Limited

4-Door Front Wheel Drive SUV, 290 bhp, 255 lb-ft, 6-sp Automatic, 17/25 mpg


$40360 Ford Explorer 4WD 4dr Limited

4-Door Four Wheel Drive SUV, 290 bhp, 255 lb-ft, 6-sp Automatic, 17/23 mpg


SPECIFICATIONS

Brakes
Brake Type Pwr
Brake ABS System 4-Wheel
Disc - Front (Yes or ) Yes
Disc - Rear (Yes or ) Yes
Front Brake Rotor Diam x Thickness N/A in
Rear Brake Rotor Diam x Thickness N/A in
Cargo Area Dimensions
Cargo Box Length @ Floor N/A in
Cargo Area Length @ Floor to Console N/A in
Cargo Area Length @ Floor to Seat 1 N/A in
Cargo Area Length @ Floor to Seat 2 N/A in
Cargo Area Length @ Floor to Seat 3 N/A in
Cargo Box Width @ Top, Rear N/A in
Cargo Area Width @ Beltline N/A in
Cargo Box Width @ Floor N/A in
Cargo Box Width @ Wheelhousings N/A in
Cargo Box (Area) Height N/A in
Tailgate Width N/A in
Cargo Volume N/A ft³
Cargo Volume to Seat 1 80.7 ft³
Cargo Volume to Seat 2 43.8 ft³
Cargo Volume to Seat 3 21.0 ft³
Ext'd Cab Cargo Volume N/A ft³
Cooling System
Total Cooling System Capacity N/A qts
Doors
Electrical
Cold Cranking Amps @ 0° F (Primary) 650
Cold Cranking Amps @ 0° F (3rd) N/A
Maximum Alternator Capacity (amps) 200
Engine
Engine Order Code 998
Engine Type Gas V6
Displacement 3.5L/213
Fuel System SMPI
SAE Net Horsepower @ RPM 290 @ 6500
SAE Net Torque @ RPM 255 @ 4100
Exterior Dimensions
Wheelbase 112.6 in
Length, Overall w/o rear bumper N/A in
Length, Overall w/rear bumper 197.1 in
Width, Max w/o mirrors 78.9 in
Height, Overall 70.4 in
Overhang, Front 38.0 in
Overhang, Rear w/o bumper N/A in
Front Bumper to Back of Cab N/A in
Cab to Axle N/A in
Cab to End of Frame N/A in
Ground to Top of Load Floor N/A in
Ground to Top of Frame N/A in
Frame Width, Rear N/A in
Ground Clearance, Front 7.6 in
Ground Clearance, Rear 7.6 in
Body Length 0.00 ft
Rear Door Opening Height N/A in
Rear Door Opening Width N/A in
Step Up Height - Front N/A in
Step Up Height - Side N/A in
Cab to Body N/A in
Frame
Frame Type Unibody
Sect Modulus Rails Only N/A in³
Frame RBM N/A N/A
Frame Strength N/A lbs
Frame Thickness N/A in
Fuel Tank
Fuel Tank Capacity, Approx 18.6 gal
Fuel Tank Location Right Side
Interior Dimensions
Passenger Capacity 7
Front Head Room 41.4 in
Front Leg Room 40.6 in
Front Shoulder Room 61.3 in
Front Hip Room 57.3 in
Second Head Room 40.5 in
Second Leg Room 39.8 in
Second Shoulder Room 61.0 in
Second Hip Room 56.7 in
Third Head Room 37.8 in
Third Leg Room 33.2 in
Third Shoulder Room 50.8 in
Third Hip Room 40.7 in
Mileage
EPA Fuel Economy Est - Hwy 23 MPG
Cruising Range - City 316.20 mi
EPA Fuel Economy Est - City 17 MPG
Fuel Economy Est-Combined 19 MPG
Cruising Range - Hwy 427.80 mi
Steering
Steering Type Pwr
Steering Ratio (:1), On Center N/A
Turning Diameter - Curb to Curb N/A ft
Turning Diameter - Wall to Wall N/A ft
Suspension
Suspension Type - Front MacPherson
Suspension Type - Rear Multi-link
Spring Capacity - Front N/A lbs
Spring Capacity - Rear N/A lbs
Axle Type - Front N/A
Axle Type - Rear N/A
Axle Capacity - Front N/A lbs
Axle Capacity - Rear N/A lbs
Axle Ratio (:1) - Front 3.39
Axle Ratio (:1) - Rear 3.39
Shock Absorber Diameter - Front N/A mm
Shock Absorber Diameter - Rear N/A mm
Stabilizer Bar Diameter - Front 1.26 in
Stabilizer Bar Diameter - Rear 0.87 in
Tires
Rear Tire Order Code N/A
Front Tire Size P255/50R20
Rear Tire Size P255/50R20
Spare Tire Size T165/80D17
Front Tire Capacity N/A lbs
Rear Tire Capacity N/A lbs
Spare Tire Capacity N/A lbs
Revolutions/Mile @ 45 mph - Front N/A
Revolutions/Mile @ 45 mph - Rear N/A
Revolutions/Mile @ 45 mph - Spare N/A
Trailering
Dead Weight Hitch - Max Trailer Wt. 2000 lbs
Dead Weight Hitch - Max Tongue Wt. 200 lbs
Wt Distributing Hitch - Max Trailer Wt. 2000 lbs
Wt Distributing Hitch - Max Tongue Wt. 300 lbs
Maximum Trailering Capacity N/A lbs
Dead Weight Hitch - Max Trailer Weight 2000.00 lbs
Dead Weight Hitch - Max Tongue Weight 200.00 lbs
Weight Distributing Hitch - Max Trailer Weight 2000.00 lbs
Weight Distributing Hitch - Max Tongue Weight 240.00 lbs
Fifth Wheel Hitch - Max Trailer Weight 2028.00 lbs
Fifth Wheel Hitch - Max Tongue Weight 507.00 lbs
Transmission
Drivetrain 4-Wheel Drive
Trans Order Code 44J
Trans Type 6
Trans Description Cont. Automatic w/OD
First Gear Ratio (:1) 4.48
Second Gear Ratio (:1) 2.87
Third Gear Ratio (:1) 1.84
Fourth Gear Ratio (:1) 1.41
Fifth Gear Ratio (:1) 1.00
Sixth Gear Ratio (:1) 0.74
Reverse Ratio (:1) 2.88
Final Drive Axle Ratio (:1) N/A
Vehicle
EPA Greenhouse Gas Score 3
Rear Door Type Liftgate
Weight Information
Trim Curb Weight 4732.00 lbs
Base Trim Weight - Front 2366.00 lbs
Base Trim Weight - Rear 2366.00 lbs
Gross Axle Wt Rating - Front 3080 lbs
Gross Axle Wt Rating - Rear 3300 lbs
Curb Weight - Front 2366 lbs
Curb Weight - Rear 2366 lbs
Option Weight - Front 0.00 lbs
Option Weight - Rear 0.00 lbs
Reserve Axle Capacity - Front 714.00 lbs
Reserve Axle Capacity - Rear 934.00 lbs
As Spec'd Curb Weight 4732.00 lbs
As Spec'd Payload 1428.00 lbs
Maximum Payload Capacity 1428.00 lbs
Gross Combined Wt Rating 7060 lbs
Gross Axle Weight Rating 6380.00 lbs
Curb Weight 4732.00 lbs
Reserve Axle Capacity 1648.00 lbs
Total Option Weight 0.00 lbs
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating 6160.00 lbs
Wheels
Front Wheel Size 20 x -TBD- in
Rear Wheel Size 20 x -TBD- in
Spare Wheel Size Mini in
Front Wheel Material Aluminum
Rear Wheel Material Aluminum
Spare Wheel Material Steel

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