UPDATE: When you're done reading part one, check out part two of our introduction of the 2011 Ford Explorer that focuses on new technology, powertrains and fuel efficiency.
In creating the 2011 Explorer, Ford engineers and designers had an enormously difficult task set before them. Ford's President of the Americas, Mark Fields, described the job as "Reinventing the SUV for the 21st century." Despite the near complete collapse of the traditional mid-to-large SUV market over the last several years, Ford still sees a substantial market for the capabilities of these boxy behemoths. Customers just don't want the traditional downsides that accompany these body-on-frame 'utes – specifically, their higher fuel consumption and poor ride and handling.
Since its debut some 20 years ago, the Explorer has sold over six million units, four million of which are still traversing the world's roads. Through much of the late-1990s and early part of the last decade, the Explorer was Ford's second-best-selling vehicle behind its F-Series pickups, regularly selling 400,000 units a year. Fast-forward to 2009, and that volume had plummeted to just over 52,000. Even so, Ford believes it still has an opportunity. According to the automaker's vice president of global marketing, Jim Farley, each year, at least 140,000 Explorer owners come back to Blue Oval dealerships looking to purchase new vehicles. And obviously, they just aren't buying Explorers.
When word got out that Ford was developing a new unibody Explorer off the same platform architecture that underpins the Taurus and Flex – not to mention the Lincoln MKS and MKT – many people wondered why Dearborn had elected to develop yet another crossover, especially since the Taurus X/Freestyle had just been killed due to slow sales. This predicament was not lost on Ford's product planners, and their four-wheeled response is a new Explorer that remains squarely targeted at traditional SUV buyers – shoppers that Ford sees as a distinct group from most crossover intenders. Long ago, Jeep proved with the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee that a unibody chassis isn't necessarily an impediment to building a fully capable off-roader, and Ford appears to have taken that lesson to heart, along with targeting big improvements in fuel economy and driving dynamics. Follow the jump to find out if they succeeded.
Design and Quality
The first thing you'll notice about the new Explorer is its appearance, and it couldn't be much more different from the more station wagon-like Flex. This, despite possessing similar hardware underneath. It's also quite different from 2008's Explorer America concept. While that design study featured a unibody, three-row configuration, its shape was comparatively soft and formless.
The production 2011 Explorer combines many of the design ideas found in the latest Taurus along with some of the "kinetic" elements from Ford of Europe's design menu into a taller, SUV form factor. The result is a sleek, modern look that combines ruggedness and athleticism. At the front, a further evolution of the three-bar grille from the Taurus sits above a trapezoidal lower air intake that echos some of Ford's European offerings. Along the flanks, parallel character lines below the beltline and above the rocker panels again mirror the appearance of the Taurus and also carry into the rear quarters. When combined with wheel arches that bulge out to cover a six inch wider track, the pulled-in bodysides lend the Explorer a much more aggressive stance.
The windshield is raked back at a steeper angle than prior iterations, and the blacked-out B- and D-pillars that have been a hallmark of every Explorer are now complemented by matching A-pillars. Only the Explorer's C-pillar is painted body color. Of the three pre-production models we've seen, two were painted white, a move that served to highlight the vastly improved tolerances of the new body panels. The gaps between the doors and bodyshell are remarkably tight and rival luxury vehicles from the likes of Audi and Lexus.
The one fitment exception that stands out is the cut line of the Explorer's hood. Like many other recent designs, the hood wraps over the bodysides in a clamshell stamping. The horizontal gap between the hood and fenders is notably wider than others, which Ford's North America Design Director Moray Callum tells us is to allow for over-slam when closing the hood. Callum further explains that the main reason for adopting this style of hood is pedestrian protection. Moving the flange from the top surface of the engine compartment to the sides provides more compliance if a pedestrian is struck. Despite the larger gap, Ford has integrated it well, running from the top edge of the headlamps back to the side glass.
In addition to the appearance and build quality, improved aerodynamics was a major focus of the new design. Ford claims a best-in-class drag coefficient of 0.35 for the new Explorer, which should contribute to improved fuel efficiency as well as reduced wind noise.
Over the last several years, Ford has made huge strides in improving both the actual and perceived quality of its interiors. Just like the refreshed 2011 Edge and the 2012 Focus, the Explorer's new cabin stands head-and-shoulders above the old model. The interior is dominated by soft-touch materials and, at first glance, the control layout appears both intuitive and ergonomically sound.
The additional width of the 2011 model comes through with extra hip and shoulder room in the first two rows. Riders in those seats will also find that they have about two inches more clearance for their ten-gallon hats. Unlike some competitors' crossovers, the second row doesn't offer any fore-aft adjustments, but occupants can at least adjust the seatback angle.
Based strictly on the specifications, leg- and headroom in the third row are pretty similar to the old model, although hip- and shoulder room are down slightly. Even still, six-footers can inhabit the third row with knees unencumbered by the second-row seatbacks.
Since the Explorer shares its architecture with the Flex, it also has the same type of third-row folding mechanism. With the seats up, there is a deep bin behind the seats that provides ample room for groceries or gear – even with seven people in the vehicle. The seatbacks can also be folded forward to retain the bin while adding extra cargo space on top of the seat. Finally, the entire unit can be flipped back into the bin, leaving a flat, bumper-level floor. With the second row seats folded as well, Ford says that the Explorer offers 80.7 cubic feet of cargo space. Additionally, the Explorer will also have an optional power-fold mechanism, but the manual setup is so easy to use that the power-fold system's extra weight and complexity hardly seems worth it.
One of the main target audiences for vehicles like the Explorer are active families. With this and the Explorer's past rollover controversy still in mind, safety came to be one of the team's top priorities during development. Like every Ford SUV, pickup and crossover in recent years, the Explorer has the automaker's Roll Stability Control (RSC) system, in addition to the more typical stability control. Aside from Volvo, Ford says it is the only the automaker to add a body roll sensor to the usual array of inertial sensors to keep things on an even keel. The Explorer builds on these existing systems with the new Curve Control functionality that we profiled a few weeks ago.
In addition to various dynamic stability control algorithms, the Explorer is available with a radar-based adaptive cruise control system. The same radar sensor used to manage the vehicle speed on a road trip also powers a collision warning system. If the Explorer is closing on another vehicle too quickly, a bright red LED array on top of the instrument cluster warns the driver and pre-charges the brakes for quicker response when they hit the pedal. If the driver fails to respond in time, the system will automatically apply the brakes with full force in order to minimize the impact or avoid the accident completely.
If an impact can't be avoided, the safety engineers have incorporated some new technology to help mitigate injuries to the passengers. Ford first announced its rear seatbelt airbag system last Fall, and it makes its production debut on the Explorer. The outboard belts in the second row consist of a double layer of fabric around a tubular airbag. In the event of a collision, the bag is inflated and the belt material opens up. The safety advantage here is that the impact load is spread over a larger area, reducing pressure at any one point. Because they are physically smaller, children are more susceptible to compression injuries in a collision, and since they typically sit in the second row, these new inflatable belts should help reduce injuries among children in particular.
Another feature unique to Ford (at least to our knowledge) is the use of pressure sensors in the side of the vehicle's body structure. In the event of a side impact, said pressure sensors will actually register before the accelerometers currently used to trigger airbags. Given the limited space between the side of the vehicle and the occupants, those extra few milliseconds of airbag deployment can make a significant difference.
The Explorer will also be available with a cross-traffic alert system that uses radar sensors in the rear corners to look sideways as the vehicle is backed out of a parking space. It can warn the driver if there are any other vehicles coming down the aisle before the driver can see them. Rear vision is also aided by a rear-view camera with a unique zoom feature, something that ought to be very helpful when hooking up a trailer.
Part two of our introduction to the 2011 Explorer will be published later today. In it we'll take a closer look at the new SUV's top technology and powertrain features, as well as have more official images from Ford to share.
UPDATE: Now that you're done reading part one, check out part two of our introduction of the 2011 Ford Explorer that focuses on new technology, powertrains and fuel efficiency. You can also view pricing and configuration information by clicking here.
• Ford reinvents the Explorer SUV with best-in-class fuel economy, improved driving dynamics and terrain management system – all wrapped in a modern, weight-saving design
• Explorer raises the bar on safety with a class-leading array of airbags including industry-first inflatable rear seat belts, Trinity front impact structure, AdvanceTrac® with RSC® (Roll Stability Control™) and Curve Control functionality
• Explorer features MyFord Touch™ driver connect technology and SYNC® integrated communications and entertainment system to help keep a driver's eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Explorer offers more technology than in-class competitors, rivaling content found in premium SUVs
DEARBORN, Mich., July 26, 2010 – Ford Explorer – the vehicle that defined a segment – has been completely reinvented, raising customers' expectations of sport utility vehicle (SUV) fuel efficiency, safety, technology, capability and quality.
"The all-new Explorer will deliver today's SUV buyers the attributes they really want and value, and a few they might not even have dreamed of," said Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas. "We're proud to introduce the new Explorer to customers and fans around the world today and pleased to begin a whole new era that blends strong SUV fuel economy and performance."
The all-new Explorer launches today to its Facebook friends in a unique social media initiative, followed by reveal events throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Shattering SUV fuel economy and performance expectations
"The new Explorer simply does everything well," said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, Global Product Development. "It raises the bar for ride and handling on the road and transforms the off-road experience. It's the hands-down winner for towing capability and ease. All this capability – and three rows of seating – with amazing fuel economy will make Explorer the absolute right choice for families with a sense of adventure."
The 2011 Explorer with V6 power is expected to deliver more than 20 percent better fuel economy than the 2010 model, shattering conventional expectations for SUV fuel efficiency. When equipped with the available 2.0-liter EcoBoost™ I-4 engine, Explorer fuel economy is expected to improve by more than 30 percent and exceed the 2010 Honda Pilot and 2010 Toyota Highlander V6.
Chief Nameplate Engineer Jim Holland said the team targeted two key objectives when developing the 2011 Ford Explorer.
"It had to look modern and contemporary – inside and out – yet be instantly recognizable as an Explorer," said Holland. "Next, the new Explorer needed to deliver the fuel economy today's customers want, combined with the performance, capability and empowerment they expect from an SUV."
Driven by the commitment to give customers unsurpassed fuel efficiency with each new vehicle, Ford attacked every detail to transform Explorer with significantly improved fuel economy:
• Twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT)
• Latest Ford EcoBoost engine
• Six-speed automatic transmissions
• Electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) to significantly reduce parasitic power loss
• Intelligent four-wheel drive (4WD)
• Variable-displacement air-conditioning compressor
• Optimized tires for reduced rolling resistance
• Slippery aerodynamics with harmonized front air dam and rear liftgate spoiler
Weight reduction is a key element in improving Explorer fuel efficiency. While adding significant content to the vehicle, engineers were able to reduce total vehicle weight by almost 100 pounds through the use of lighter materials such as an aluminum hood. Explorer weight loss is even more impressive, as the latest versions of Honda Pilot and Toyota 4Runner have added pounds versus previous models.
Explorer's available advanced 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 delivers the power of a normally aspirated V6 without compromising four-cylinder fuel economy. Aimed at the SUV buyer whose top priority is fuel economy, this turbocharged and intercooled I-4 engine delivers a projected 237 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 250 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,700 through 4,000 rpm. The EcoBoost employs direct injection of gasoline, Ti-VCT, direct-acting mechanical bucket (DAMB) valve lifters and four valves per cylinder.
Explorer's standard powertrain combines front-wheel drive with a 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6 engine, delivering an estimated 290 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. Ti-VCT allows individually optimized camshaft timing of valve opening and closing events to improve mechanical efficiency while delivering increased power and reducing part-throttle emissions. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, this powerful, flexible and efficient V6 is projected to deliver more than 20 percent better fuel economy versus the previous Explorer V6 model.
Explorer's variable-displacement air-conditioning compressor provides a fuel economy benefit with less drag and smoother transition for improved driveability.
Each Explorer engine is paired with a unique six-speed automatic transmission, combining lowered initial gears for improved off-the-line acceleration and higher gearing for improved efficiency at lower engine rpm when cruising.
Explorer V6 models are available with an intelligent 4WD system that adds terrain management. Situation-selectable, this powertrain advancement takes the guesswork out of 4WD range choice.
A driver need only turn the console-mounted knob to the proper setting among snow, sand, mud and normal modes. This system also includes a hill descent mode.
Simpler and more convenient for SUV veterans, the system will be a confidence-builder for drivers new to the segment.
Contemporary design with segment-leading craftsmanship and quietness
In addition to its clean, modern design inside and out, Explorer aims to please SUV shoppers with a thoughtful, flexible interior package that abounds with clever storage capacity. The new SUV features more head and shoulder room, three rows of flexible seating, and room for everything families want to take along on their adventures.
The Explorer design – inside and out – is executed with world-class craftsmanship. Tight margin gaps are just one indication of the immense attention to detail applied to craftsmanship across the spectrum, from design to engineering to manufacturing.
The Chicago facility where Explorer will be produced raised the bar on initial quality measures with the recent Taurus launch, which is good news for customers.
"Crafting a high-quality vehicle is like preparing a gourmet meal," said Peter Bejin, craftsmanship supervisor. "You start with high-quality ingredients, execute your recipe with flawless preparation and finally, present it with flair and panache."
Quietness – another profound advancement in the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer – also will signal quality to customers.
The team enhanced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) control for the all-new Explorer using an advanced technology called NoiseVision. A ball with hundreds of tiny cameras and microphones, NoiseVision allows engineers to pinpoint and address potential noise issues earlier in the development process.
Explorer is expected to be superior to in-segment competitors and rival premium SUVs in quietness and NVH control.
Explorer safety – strength, technology and innovation
The all-new Explorer targets top safety ratings with a stiff unibody structure and a class-leading suite of active and passive safety features and technologies, plus another Ford safety innovation – the world's first second-row inflatable rear belts.
Rear seat passengers – often children or mature passengers – can be more vulnerable to head, chest and neck injuries. Ford's unique inflatable rear belts spread impact forces across more than five times the area than conventional seat belts, reducing pressure on the chest while helping to control head and neck motion. Belt comfort should also help increase usage rates. Studies show inflatable belts to be more comfortable for passengers due to padding.
From the boron front bumper beam through the hydroformed front frame rails and high-strength steel side-impact tubes, Explorer's rigid body structure is designed to provide robust protection for occupants. In the instance of a crash, these elements come together to protect Explorer driver and passengers inside a safety cage of strength.
Standard Explorer safety features include:
• AdvanceTrac with RSC features Curve Control functionality to provide braking – optimized by each individual wheel
• Second-generation first-row airbags, side seat airbags
• Belt-Minder® for driver and first-row passenger
• Front passenger sensing system
• Energy-management system pretensioning for height-adjustable first-row seat belts
• LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system for outboard second-row positions, for safely securing child safety seats
• SOS Post-Crash Alert System™
• Safety Canopy® side curtain airbags
• Tire Pressure Monitoring System
Available Explorer safety features include:
• Adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support
• BLIS® (Blind Spot Information System) with cross-traffic alert
Stretching the breadth of capability
The 2011 Ford Explorer redefines customer expectations for driving dynamics and comfort – on any road, anytime, anywhere – while stretching the breadth of SUV capability. Transforming Explorer's driving quality was central to creating an SUV for 21st century customers.
"Our objectives for Explorer dynamics were threefold," said Carl Widmann, vehicle engineering manager. "The first element was to greatly increase on-road comfort, capability and driving dynamics. The second was to maintain the 'any road, anytime, anywhere' capability of the previous model. Finally, we aimed to apply technology to the task of safely towing, as V6 Explorer models are rated up to 5,000 pounds. We think customers will be pleased with the
next-generation Explorer on all three counts."
The theme of the all-new Explorer dynamics development was balance. The team sought to provide an engaging driver experience in harmony with the extended breadth of 4WD capability to build driver confidence.
The shift to a unibody construction platform enabled a reduction in road noise and significantly decreased Explorer body roll in dynamic cornering situations. Independent front suspension is of the short- and long-arm configuration with a 32-millimeter front stabilizer bar. Independent rear suspension is the SR1 configuration, so-named for its one-to-one shock absorber ratio, which enables precise ride control.
Explorer's EPAS system allows for variable rates of assistance based on speed, turn-in and direction. In addition to optimized steering feel, tight on-centering and appropriate resistance, EPAS provides a fuel economy benefit in comparison to traditional hydraulic power assist systems. EPAS also enables a competitive turning radius for optimum maneuverability in parking situations, combined with increased assistance at low speeds for parking ease.
EPAS allows for the addition of Curve Control, a new feature that senses when a driver enters a turn too quickly and applies brake pressure to stabilize the vehicle.
In addition, EPAS enables the optional active park assist technology. When activated, the system scans for a suitable spot, calculates the trajectory, and steers the vehicle. The driver continues to control brake and throttle inputs, but the system steers the vehicle throughout the parking maneuver.
Off-roading standout on a variety of surfaces
The key to Explorer 4WD capability is Ford's new terrain management system.
Replacing the traditional SUV transfer case configuration, the new system takes the guesswork out of maximizing 4WD and the capabilities it enables. Rather than employment of four-high, four-low and auto settings, Explorer terrain management is selectable by situation. The four settings – available by shift-on-the-fly – include normal, mud, sand and snow.
Each setting provides unique engine behavior, throttle tip-in, transmission shift scheduling and calibrations for traction and stability control systems. Terrain management also includes Hill Descent Control™, which provides engine braking to increase driver confidence and control when descending a steep incline.
Explorer models with V6 power are rated to tow a maximum of 5,000 pounds. To aid with hookup – especially when alone – a reverse camera with zoom-in functionality is available, allowing a driver to back up to the trailer on-center. The Explorer towing package includes trailer sway control – a stability package shared with the Ford F-150 pickup – to help minimize trailer sway. Trailer brake controller wiring is also included, as is a tow/haul mode. Engaging tow/haul mode increases engine braking to help slow the vehicle and trailer when descending steep grades.
Loaded with features, convenience and connectivity
The all-new Explorer is available in three trim series levels – base, XLT and Limited. Each offering presents a robust array of standard features, with a class-leading selection of additional convenience and connectivity options so a buyer can tailor a new Explorer to his or her individual needs and desires.
Standard convenience features include:
• MyFord driver connect technology including 4.2-inch LCD screen
• MyKey™ owner control feature
• Air filtration system
• Media hub
• Easy Fuel® capless fuel filler system
• Cruise control
• Power windows, with one-touch down for driver
• Power door locks with child safety rear door locks
• Tilt/telescoping steering column
• Four 12-volt power points
• Cargo hooks
Explorer XLT includes standard content and adds:
• Automatic headlamps
• Six-speed SelectShift Automatic™
• Heated sideview mirrors with LED signal indicators and security approach lamps
• SecuriCode™ keyless entry keypad
• Reverse sensing system
• Perimeter alarm
Explorer Limited includes all base and XLT content, plus:
• 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
• MyFord Touch driver connect technology
• Intelligent Access with push-button start
• Universal garage door opener
"We spent our time listening to customers and addressing their needs to launch an SUV that reinvigorates the Explorer nameplate and delivers on Ford's promise of high-quality, fuel-efficient and technologically advanced vehicles with industry-leading safety," said Holland. "The all-new Explorer will change market perceptions about SUV style, fuel efficiency, technology and user-friendliness."
The 2011 Explorer will be assembled at Ford's Chicago manufacturing facility. Production begins late this year, and Explorer will be available in dealerships this winter.
About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 176,000 employees and about 80 plants worldwide, the company's automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln and Mercury, production of which has been announced by the company to be ending in the fourth quarter of 2010, and, until its sale, Volvo. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.ford.com.