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2011 Ford Explorer (Design Critique)

      As the Ford Explorer enters into its 21st model year, the vehicle itself attempts to redefine a segment which it led through years of prosperity. Once referred to as the ‘compact SUV,’ the genre has changed in recent years. The original Explorer was little more than a lightly re-skinned Bronco II offered in 2-door and stretched 4-door form. Eventually the 2-door would vanish and the 4-door would add a third row of seats, but one thing stayed constant all those years: body-on-frame construction. For 2011 Ford is taking a small gamble that SUV buyers don’t really care about what type of platform their vehicle is based on.
      Based heavily on the new Taurus, the Explorer looks like the crossover Ford is desperately trying to deny that it is. The biggest give away that this Explorer is car based is the large front overhang  and encroaching A-pillar that are missing on all previous generations. Is this the right vehicle at the right time? Probably so, as consumers continue to appreciate the car-like attributes that so many crossovers offer. Virtually identical in concept and execution to the failed Freestyle and Taurus X crossovers, the Explorer will likely succeed simply due to the familiarity of its name and the attractiveness of the overall package. 

A1 – Strong C-pillar is about the only constant styling cue carried through the Explorer’s lifespan. In this iteration it gets wider, more rakish, and more stylish. I doubt this helps outward visibility.

A2 – A-pillar is painted black, a curious industry trend that is somewhat of a throwback to several cars from the early 1990s. The Explorer has no history with such a cue but mimics nicely the d-pillar, itself a congruous Explorer feature.

A3 – Grille surprisingly follows the look of the Taurus. If Ford is marketing this as an SUV, wouldn’t the nostrilled F-150 grille be a better façade to duplicate?

A4 – Lower dark cladding helps deceive the eye into believing this vehicle has more ground clearance.

A5 – Cut line of the hood gives a more 3-dimensional look to a feature that was nearly a flat slab on the original Explorer.

A6 – Flared body panels link the Explorer to the design language of Ford’s passenger car line.  A good look, but again does nothing to help market this as an SUV.

A7 – Cut-line in the bumper shoots off in an unexpected direction, resulting in a gigantic rear fascia. 

A8 – Tail lights are so obviously inspired by the Taurus’ squircle back-up lamps it makes one wonder if Ford was considering on calling this a Taurus wagon. The upside down L-shape looks fashionable, and the look is compelling.

A9 – Dual exhausts flank what appears to be a removable section in the bumper for a trailer hitch. Will this crossover be put to that task or will those towing a trailer now opt for a brutish Expedition?

A10 – Rear side glass has shrunken to nearly useless proportions. Ironic that there were no 3rd row passengers to peer out the large glass on the ’91 Explorer and that the occupants of this new model will feel like they are looking out a porthole.

A11 – Fog lights are so small they barely manage to be noticed.

A12 – Ditto the headlights. But check out the size of those turn signals!

A13 –  Explorers of yore never had rims this nice!  The detailing is beautiful and imply fluid motion – words hardly associated with the image of traditional SUVs.

  1. Theautoprophet
    September 1st, 2010 at 21:37 | #1

    is encrouching really a word?

  2. September 1st, 2010 at 21:47 | #2

    Good catch! We’ll be fixing that now and signing Editor Gernand up for a vowel refresher at his local elementary school.@Theautoprophet

  3. Mikey
    September 2nd, 2010 at 19:53 | #3

    The top picture is incorrect. 1995-1997 is different from 1998-2001. Thats a big mistake…

  4. September 2nd, 2010 at 22:46 | #4

    You are correct that there were differences during those years. However I would consider those relatively minor, especially compared with the revisions made from ’94 to ’95 and again with the all new Explorer in 2002. I think the biggest visual differences from ’97 to ’98 are limited to the rocker moldings, wheel designs, and bumper facia.

  5. October 29th, 2010 at 01:19 | #5

    The all-2011 Ford Explorer will offer SUV customers a broad range of trim levels and customer convenience and connectivity technologies that will raise the eyebrows among even luxury SUV owners.

  1. July 29th, 2010 at 03:54 | #1
  2. November 30th, 2010 at 14:41 | #2
  3. August 29th, 2011 at 08:27 | #3
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