2011 Ford Explorer - First drive
Quebec City, Quebec
Love it or hate it, the Explorer nameplate has been around for quite some time now. Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for the vehicle. After all, back in my days running detail shops, I prepared the first Eddie Bauer Edition for its launch at the Toronto Auto Show.
Now I won’t lie to you on this one, quality control at Ford was a little sketchy back in those days. In fact, one of the proposed show vehicles arrived at my shop completely void of the body side moldings on one side of the vehicle. Fair enough, it took me a while to figure out what was wrong, but somebody should have caught the problem before the vehicle landed on my doorstep!
Of course, forgiving the odd hiccup here and there, the Explorer has been a huge success for the company, and why not. It’s ticked the right boxes, appearance-wise, price-wise etc, and has successfully provided the North American public with an affordable SUV for decades.
So let’s zip forward to the Ford Explorer of 2011 and find out if this still rings true.
Well, having just returned from experiencing the all-new Explorer, I’ll tell you this... Not only has any sign of quality control issues from the past seem to have disappeared, but the new model is set to surprise a lot of people, including one or two high-end SUV makers.
Let’s start with the exterior. Now Ford has always kept up with the times as far as style & design goes, but this new model takes that to a whole new level. It screams bang-up-to-date design, and the fit and finish of the body panels are a testament to the company’s progress in the area of quality control. In fact, place your hand over the familiar blue oval and you could be forgiven for believing this a European SUV, only lacking the hefty price tag which typically goes with that moniker.
Slipping inside, things continue along the same lines, and if you thought high-tech gadgetry was only available to the rich and famous, then you’ve got a shock in store. The new 2011 Explorer features, amongst many other things, the company’s MyFord driver connect technology. Now in all honesty, it took me a while to get my head around this idea. You see, I’ve never been a fan of placing all the vehicle controls into a computerized system viewed via an LCD screen. Yes, I know it’s the way of the future and all that, and a lot of people will call me old-fashioned, but I’ve yet to experience one which works 100% all of the time. The idea of a master control knob is fine, once you’ve spent a few weeks mastering it so you don’t have to look down, thus taking your eyes from the road, to operate the thing. Another concern, for me at least, is how expensive it will be to repair these units once the vehicle warranty expires. However, the new Ford Explorer has somewhat changed my views. You see, with over 10,000 voice commands available, there shouldn’t be any reason to look at anything inside the vehicle to make things work. And as far as repair bills go, the company is fitting this system into a lot of its products today, so I would expect repair costs to reflect in the number of units produced. This is one occasion when it might pay buyers to steer clear of high-tech from the small volume manufacturers.
The MyFord driver connect system will come standard across the entire lineup, and with the base model starting at just $29,999, that’s going to please a lot of people. Buyers can also expect, MyKey™ owner control feature, Air filtration system, Media hub, Easy Fuel® capless fuel filler system, Cruise Control, and Power windows, with one-touch down for driver.
Moving up to the XLT model ($35,999) will add automatic headlamps, six-speed SelectShift Automatic™, heated sideview mirrors with LED signal indicators and security approach lamps, SecuriCode™ keyless entry keypad, reverse sensing system, and perimeter alarm.
At the top of the range, the Limited Edition ($41,999) adds PowerFold® sideview 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, 110-volt outlet, Intelligent Access with push-button start, and a universal garage door opener.
My test vehicle came loaded with just about everything imaginable, including power-folding 3rd row seats and power-tailgate, which pushed the price up to around the $50k mark. Now that might sound a lofty price for a North American made Ford unit, but if you do your homework and compare it to some of the other offerings on the market, and then add in all the features which the Explorer carries, it’s actually a fantastic deal.
We now come to the power-train, and Ford has more good news here. From customer feedback the company learned that fuel economy was a major consideration in vehicle selection. I don’t suppose you needed to be Einstein to figure that one out! Today, most companies are boasting of fuel economy improvements over their previous models, but the Ford numbers are pretty impressive. The 290hp 3.5L V6 delivers 11.9 L / 100 km in the city and 8.0 L / 100 km on the highway. That’s an improvement of about 20 per cent over the outgoing 2010 model, and the 2.0L EcoBoost™ I-4 engine, when it comes, should up that number to around 30%.
However, perhaps the best feature on the 2011 Explorer is its intelligent 4WD system that adds terrain management. Situation-selectable, this literally takes the guesswork out of 4WD range choice. With four settings (Normal, Mud, Sand, Snow), a quick twist of a knob is all that’s needed and the system does everything else for you! It even boasts of a Hill Descent feature which makes use of ABS braking/Traction Control to take the fear out of descending steep gradients. Now some of you might have heard of a system similar to this before. I know I have. It’s almost identical to that of Land Rover products, which is hardly surprising considering the British company was under the stewardship of Ford for a number of years. However what is surprising, at least to me, is that Ford can offer this sort of technology for the price tag it’s placed on the Explorer.
I really like the new Explorer, and I’m going to sum it up with one simple sentence...If your minds ever wandered to the idea of purchasing a high-end European SUV, do yourself a favour and check out your local Ford Dealership first!
I was going to end this story with the line, Ford’s got a real winner on its hands here, but this news has just reached me... The company is already struggling to meet demand for the new 2011 Explorer. In fact, Explorer sales in the U.S. for January show an increase of 73% over this time last year and the company is already running short on stock. With this news, it seems a little pointless in me stating the obvious. Well, done Ford, keep up the good work!
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2011 Ford Explorer - First drive
Quebec City, Quebec Love it or hate it, the Explorer nameplate has been around for quite some time now.…
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