One week ago, I was given a “sneak peek” of the new Explorer at Ford’s Product Development Center in Dearborn. I learned then what you all probably know by now: The new Explorer is a D3-platform vehicle, offering reasonably spacious seven-seat packaging, the myFordTouch in-car entertainment system, a twin-LCD dashboard, and a 237-horsepower turbo four as the base engine.
In other words, it’s a car, just like the Honda Pilot is a car and the Toyota Highlander is a car.
Faced with the prospect of engineering a clean-sheet body-on-frame midsized truck to meet all possible safety, efficiciency, and feature-content concerns, Ford did the easier thing and simply revised the Flex a bit.
Some commentators are hitting Ford hard for “abandoning the authentic Explorer”. That’s mostly nonsense. As we’ve discussed on TTAC for the past few days, the average Explorer customer simply wanted a modern, feature-packed family wagon with four-wheel-drive. The new model meets those needs easily, and better than ever before. Nobody ever cared that the Explorer was body-on-frame. If anything, they were annoyed by it. Those annoyances have disappeared.
With the exceptions of tow capacity and suitability for “mudder” conversion ten years after the original owner trades it in, the new Explorer is simply superior to anything Ford’s ever put the nameplate on. From the Audi-esque interior to the rather fascinating new “curve control” that should all but eliminate freeway off-ramp accidents, it’s chock-full of technological innovation.
I’m particularly impressed by the way Ford has chosen to take a full-throttle approach to occupant safety. Name a concern with the previous models — from tippiness to passive safety to handling issues — and you will see that it’s been more than addressed in the new Explorer. I expect it to post a very impressive safety record. Ford’s not taking chances here.
In a world where the Ford Flex did not exist, this Explorer would represent the ultimate domestic family wagon… and that’s the problem. Compared to the Explorer, the Flex has more room, more available power, and styling that is far less “me-too”. It dispenses with the “high and mighty” idiocy and provides a seating position that is neither Corvette low nor traffic-blocking high. The electronic goodies will find their way over in the near future — the 2011 Edge already has them — and the third-row seating is, frankly, non-trivially better. If you want an Explorer, you probably really want a Flex.
In the real world, however, people buy cars based on bizarre notions of prestige, protection against unreal threats, and the likely effects on their neighbors’ libidos. Look for the Explorer to do well in the real world. It plays the same game Honda and Toyota play, and plays it to win.