Our spy photographers have noticed a test mule running around Detroit, and we agree with their guess that it's the upcoming reinvention of the Ford Explorer on a unibody platform. Since its inception, the Explorer has been a true SUV built on a sturdy truck frame, but the market has turned its back on traditional SUVs, so Ford came up with the Explorer America concept that debuted at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. The concept previews the vehicle you see here, though current mules for the production version are cobbled together with bits of Taurus X and Flex body panels.
The new Explorer will be ditching its truckish roots and climbing onboard a new car-based platform that's shared with the Flex. The new unibody structure will effectively make the next Explorer a large CUV rather than an SUV. The mules are wearing a Flex front end with a modified lower grille to allow more cooling air to reach the engine, but after the more steeply raked A-pillar we find the body of a Ford Taurus X. Our spies note that the wheelbase of these mules appears to be shorter than that of the Flex, though we expect the new Explorer to sport a third row of seats regardless. The mules also appear to be wider than a Taurus X or Flex, which is fitting with the SUV image the new Explorer must project. Click the gallery below for more spy shots of the next-gen Explorer, that should be arriving sometime in 2010.