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2011 Ford Explorer (Preview)

      Ford finally unmasked the 2011 Explorer today. About time too, because the slow reveal over Facebook was really starting to try the patience of Executive Editor Dye  (who still hasn’t joined the 21st century with a Facebook page). But now we have the pictures and the story behind them. Click through for our first impressions.
      With all the close up shots being dribbled onto the interwebs at an agonizingly slow pace, it wasn’t hard to piece together what the overall design was going to look like. Design Editor Gernand will walk you through this feature-by-feature soon, but here are a few thoughts from your humble author. The face is distinctively Ford with a very Taurus inspired grille, while the profile is a cross between a Chevrolet Traverse and a Honda Pilot. If you look hard you might see elements that seem inspired by previous-gen Explorers, namely the beltline and greenhouse when viewed from a rear three-quarter angle, but otherwise this is an all-new vehicle cut from a clean cloth.
      The 2011 Explorer further breaks away from its predecessors by being built upon an extensively shared unibody platform. Ford’s aim is to market the Explorer towards the traditional SUV buyer, but the specs scream crossover. Underpinning all that new sheetmetal is a platform that traces its lineage back to the 2004 Volvo S80. Ford adapted it for its 2005 Five Hundred (Taurus) and Mercury Montego (Sable) sedans as well as the Freestyle (Taurus X), the 2010 Taurus and Flex, Lincoln MKS / MKT and even the Mazda CX-9. The front wheels provide the main application of power to the tarmac and the engines are mounted transversely.

      Speaking of engines, Ford will be outfitting the Explorer with one of two available engines at launch. Standard fare will be the 3.5L V6 found in a number of Fords, including the Flex and the Lincoln MKT. In Explorer duty this engine will produce 290-hp and 255 lb-ft of torque and is available with either FWD or AWD. The newsmaker of the powerplants is the optional 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder. This little mill is turbocharged and features direct-injection to help it produce up to 237-hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. These are healthy numbers considering Ford’s 4.6L V8 was only producing 215-hp and 290 lb-ft of torque for the Expedition back in 1997, however it is only available with FWD. The 4-cylinder EcoBoost will be the optional motor, although we don’t yet know what premium Ford will charge. Presumably, Ford is banking on a number of customers being willing to option up to better fuel economy. Both engines are mated to 6-speed automatic transmissions and we expect class-leading fuel economy out of both. Equipped with the V6, the Explorer is rated to tow 5000-lbs while the 4-cylinder can only manage a 2000-lb burden. Considering how extensively Ford is proliferating the EcoBoost tech throughout the lineup it is conceivable that the 3.5L twin-turbo’d mill would find its way under the hood sometime after launch once assembly in Chicago is ramped up.
      Interested? Head on over to the Ford Explorer website as they have the Build Your Own configurator up and running now. Base price for a FWD Explorer with the 3.5L V6 is $28,190, but get crazy with the options and 20″ wheels and the sticker will climb north of the $45k mark pretty quick.
      If you only look at the specs you may be disappointed at how pedestrian the Explorer has become. Call to mind what duty this vehicle has traditionally been tasked with however, and one will realize exactly what Ford’s new direction for the Explorer is. This is a vehicle for the family on the move. The family that needs to haul more than two kids, and a dog, and a kayak, and a pop-up camper on the weekend, but spend the rest of the week carpooling to school and soccer practice. Is it all that we hoped for? We’ll have to get back to you on that. Is it what Ford needs right now? You betcha! 

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