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Exploring Familiar Territory

Posted by: Mark Bilek

2011 Ford ExplorerUnless you live under a rock, you heard something about a new Ford Explorer yesterday. Ford pulled out all of the stops and introduced the 2011 model simultaneously in nine cities across North America. The media splash went from New York to Chicago to LA. While the events were flashy, they didn't feature a lot of substance (other than the Chicago event, where Ford announced the new Explorer would add 1500 jobs to the Torrence Avenue Assembly plant.

Ford added the meat to the potatoes today at an exclusive media luncheon with the Explorer Chief Nameplate Engineer, Jim Holland.

Despite its slippery new styling and all-wheel-drive system, the first thing Jim pointed out was that Explorer is still an SUV at heart. It has standard seating for seven and can tow up to 5000 pounds. Not only is the 2011 Explorer sleeker, it's also three inches longer and five inches wider than the model it replaces.

Another change is the switch from rear- or four-wheel drive with a transfer case to front- or all-wheel drive. Holland explained that traditional Explorer drivers value traction over extreme off-road capability. The switch to a front-drive-based system not only made Explorer lighter but opened up additional room for passenger and cargo space.

Standard on all all-wheel drive models is hill descent control and a terrain management system that varies throttle, shift-point, and traction settings depending on driver selected surface settings. For example, there's a setting for mud that keeps the tires from spinning too much at startup but then allows some slip as speeds increase to fling excess mud off of the tire.

If there are two things Ford would want everyone to know about the new Explorer is that it's the first vehicle to have inflatable seatbelts and boasts up to 30% better fuel economy than the previous model.

The optional inflatable belts are in the outboard second-row seats and act as mini-airbags to reduce forward impact forces and better distribute forces to reduce belt-related injuries. They complement the standard dual-front, front-side, and three-row curtain-side airbags.

Fuel economy claims are impressive and due, in part to two new engines. Standard is a 3.5-liter V6 that, when combined with the new six-speed automatic, 100-pound weight reduction, and slippery silhouette, is 20% more fuel efficient than the current V6 Explorer. That likely means a jump from 20 mpg highway to 24 mpg highway.

Even more substantial are the claims Ford is making about the fuel economy of the available EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. Ford claims that it will increase fuel economy by as much as 30% over the current V6 model.

Ford hasn't announced complete pricing, but the 2001 Explorer will come in three flavors. The base will list for $28,900, which is $1000 less than the current model. Next up is the XLT, which lists for $31,900. The line topping Limited will have a sticker of $37,900. All of these prices are for V6 models with front-wheel drive.

The only downside? The new Explorer isn't slated to go on sale until late December or early January. In the meantime, you can build your own at Ford's Explorer microsite.

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