2011 Ford Explorer XL - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

2011 Ford Explorer XL

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And the North American Truck of the year is… the new Ford Explorer.  Not a bad way for Ford to start off the year. We're a few months in and sales are strong.  Many Ford dealers are having a hard time keeping the new from the ground up Explorer in stock.

This has got to be good news to Ford's ears.  It wasn't too long ago the blue oval was selling close to half a million of these S-U-V's year.  But after the whole Firestone tire issue, gas prices and competition, sales dropped. Last year about 60 thousand trucks made their way off the lot.

As Peter Brady once sang, "When it's time to change you've got to rearrange" or in the case of the Explorer, rebuild.

So what makes the new truck so good?  I had to find out first hand what the buzz is all about.

The first thing you'll notice is the design.  The boxy look has been replaced with a sleeker design.  The crossover (Ford no longer calls the Explorer an S-U-V) rides on a Taurus platform but has been beefed up from some off road action. Much of the styling looks similar to a Taurus, which I like the looks of. The new Explorer is both longer and wider than the model it replaces.  

This allows for a roomier 3rd row than before.  Although it's still a bit tight way back there, you can haul up to 7 more comfortably than before..  I'd recommend putting the kids in the 3rd row.  One improvement Ford overlooked was making the second row adjustable. This would have opened things up for passengers in the nose bleed section.  On a positive note, with the third row up, there is still a decent amount of space behind it to haul your stuff.

Although it may look beefier, from the engines point of view, it's not.  The V-8 is no longer an option and all Explorers' will be equipped with the 290 hp, 3.5 TiVCT V6. Towing capacity is down to 5000 lbs, but that's enough for small boats and campers.  The smaller engine translates into more MPG, now up to 25mpg highway. 

You may have one engine option, but you have three levels of Explorer to choose from, base, XLT and Limited. My ride was an Ingot Silver XLT.   Ford expects the middle of the road version to be their best seller.  It has enough bells and whistles to keep the tech savvy happy and won't set you back close to 50 grand like a decked out, fully loaded with every option Limited. That's the level where you'll find options like electric fold third row seats, an adjustable lift gate, HID lights, entertainment system and just about anything else you can think of in a vehicle at that price.  The one issue Ford is going to run into with an S-U-V at this price point is competition from the luxury brands.

Whatever version you choose, you're bound to find something you like.  For me there were a few things that really stood out.  First is the updated My Ford Touch. The do it all system I've raved about in the past can now handle your texts. It will read them out loud to you so you don't have to look down at your phone.  Plus you can shoot back a few standard/canned replies so you never have to take your eye off the road.  I'm told down the road you'll be able to speak your text message back, which in my book, then becomes a phone call which you can make through the My Touch system.

The big issue with My Touch is the learning curve.  It's not difficult to use, you just need learn the system.  You have to learn how to sweet talk the computer and figure out exactly what to say. When it works, it works great, when it doesn't, you want to re-enact the computer smashing scene from the movie "Office Space".  On those days when human to computer talking does not compute,  I am glad there are still buttons you can use to control the functions you want on those frustrating days.

The other thing really I liked was the basic looking, yet high tech dash.  It appears as though you only have a speedometer with a really nifty looking blue glow.  But on the right and left of it, you have a number of options which can display everything from your fuel mileage, trip meter and entertainment features.

Being on a car platform now, the ride is much better.  You still get some rolling as you take a fast corner, but that's not what this vehicle is designed for.

When that fast corner leads to mud, dirt or snow, a little dial called the "Terrain Management System" allows you to dial up the proper setting for your road conditions be it Mud/Ruts, Sand, Gravel or Snow.  It works with the four wheel drive system to give you the best possible traction in any condition.  I just left it in "normal" mode as that's all I did, normal around town stuff.

Outside of the non adjustable 2nd row seats and a sometimes finicky My Touch system, I have very few gripes with the new Explorer.  Also, when you start marking off the options boxes, I feel it gets a bit over priced. 

The "cross-over" segment is becoming quite crowded with entries from just about every manufacturer.  Ford has done a great job at trying to reinvent a former big time player in the family truckster arena.  It's off to a good start at reclaiming the crown, but with everyone upping the ante, Ford needs to stay on top of their game and probably stay away from Firestone.

Next Month...The Nissan GT-R

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