By on February 8, 2011

Imagine, for a moment, you are a plant. Well, not just any plant. You are Robert Plant, and everywhere you go, people want you to sing “Stairway to Heaven”. I’d rather not, you tell them. Never liked that one much, to be honest. We’ve a much better song that I’d much rather sing. Called ‘Kashmir’, dontcha know. Much better, that one. For years, you refuse to perform the song. You cancel a proposed Led Zeppelin reunion because the promotion company insists, positively insists, that you play “Stairway”. You’d rather play “Kashmir”. And since you don’t really need the money, that’s the end of it.

I suspect the people who run Ford can sympathize a bit with Mr. Plant. Their “Stairway” is a four-door SUV called the Explorer. You might have heard of it. Sold a bunch, that Explorer, even though it was always kind of a hokey tune, a Ranger truck with a cap and a couple rows of plastic-leather seats, perched sky-high on underinflated Firestones.

The Explorer was never a truly outstanding answer to the family-wagon question, so a couple years back Ford created the Flex, which is an outstanding answer. It should have made the Explorer obsolete, but there were two problems. It wasn’t really an SUV, and it wasn’t an Explorer. And since Ford, unlike Zeppelin’s Golden God, needs the money…

The first two generations of Explorers were fundamentally pickup trucks. This one is fundamentally a car, which is to say it’s another variant of Ford’s much-loved (and much-hated) D3/4 platform. The company makes no secret of this, preferring to point out all the ways in which D3 has been updated for modern duty in general and SUV duty in particular. Although the rocker-panel-covering doors and bizarre QIX-pattern footwells remain, the driver now sits in an entirely new relationship to the rest of the vehicle.

Wide is the word here. The Explorer’s driver seat feels almost centrally located. There’s clear air between the chair and the armrest, with the door itself seemingly a foot and a half thick. The modern tradition of shoulder-height sills is fully respected in this car, as well. My transactions with the local Burger King gave me the distinct impression of being trapped in an oubliette, passing money and food through a distant trap door. It’s as far from the thin-door, narrow-body 1994 original as one can imagine, and it’s clearly designed to pander to all those perceived security issues supposedly experienced by female drivers.

My contract with TTAC allows me to make one “Xzibit” joke every month, so here it is: Sup dawg, we heard you like Audis, so we put an Audi in your Explorer so you can feel smug while you drive, yo. Ford didn’t just benchmark the leading German interior designs with this new vehicle; they actively riff off them. My favorite part? The power-lock button. It’s set within a delicate, perfect chrome ring, which is then set within the shiny black speaker grille for the door-mounted tweeter. As a complete design and execution statement, the Explorer’s interior is easily a match for that of the Grand Cherokee. The Japanese and the GM Lambdas aren’t even on the same playing field, and you’ll need to lease a Q7 with all the options if you want to see the next round of the game.

Ford’s complete myFordTouch system makes its second appearance here after the debut in the Edge. As with the Edge, there’s that odd cognitive dissonance between the pressure-touch main screen (as one might find in a modern automated teller machine) and the capacitance-touch center stack (think iPhone or Droid). Nor is the HVAC system particularly glove-friendly, unless you’re one of those hipsters who wears the special iPad gloves. If you are one of those “people’, feel free to go back to Jalopnik and read today’s feature article on hovercrafts, experimental aircraft, celebrity genitalia, or whatever other non-automotive thing they’re doing today. If, on the other hand, you are a member of that harried species known as “the American parent”, you will simply adore the way it’s possible to wipe down the whole console at once with a damp rag. No buttons means no crevices for dust, food, coffee, or soda, you see. That kind of stuff matters.

Speaking of parenthood for a moment… Let’s talk child seats. The Flex is a kid-seat superstar, able to effortlessly swallow two of today’s monstrous rear-facing infant enclosures without cramping the other passengers or permanently disfiguring the seatbacks ahead of them. It also has adult-sized seats in the third row and plenty of ways to get back there. Only minivans do it better.

Don’t expect the same accomodation from the Explorer. There’s a price to be paid for SUV styling, and in this case the price comes in the form of a shorter wheelbase. Forward-facing seats are okay, as demonstrated here by my fellow stunt driver John “Trip” Baruth III, but putting an infant in the second row will mean discomfort for the people sitting in rows one and three. Do not, however, imagine for a single moment that any of the competition is even slightly better in this regard.

By the numbers, the Explorer’s cargo capacity falls way behind that of the GM Lambdas, with approximately eighty cubic feet of max space versus one hundred and sixteen, but numbers might not tell the whole story. Real-world capacity probably isn’t that different, and the web forums are abuzz with allegations of clever measurement and fractions of cubic feet found in cubbyholes. Still, if you need the absolute maximum storage, the Acadia and siblings are the ticket. Same goes for towing: the Explorer tops out at five thousand pounds. To be fair, however, a Tahoe or Expedition would have far more towing and cargo capacity at a cost which wouldn’t be much higher. My experience pulling my race car on an open trailer with my Flex indicates that the D4 chassis is more than up to the job, but that the transmission just feels delicate. Serious towing with a sideways gearbox frightens me, and it should frighten you, too.

I was lucky enough to get some snow and ice during my time with the Explorer, and I found it to be more or less as competent as the AWD Flex, which is to say competent enough. As with the Land Rovers and Jeeps, there’s a “terrain dial” with four settings. I didn’t read the manual, but the settings are clearly for

  • Truck Mode
  • Spaceships And Railroad Tracks
  • Cactus Proximity
  • Giant Snowflakes

Rotating the dial produces a “click” and the satisfying sense that one has chosen an appropriate response for a situation. If there is any other effect, I could not discern it. The AWD system behaves about the same in all circumstances, permitting a little slip in the front before kicking the back in sans subtlety. Apparently the amount of permitted wheelspin is different in each setting, with the Spaceship setting being the most strict, just in case the aliens are police aliens looking to write tickets for street racing.

Speaking of… There’s not yet an EcoBoost option for the Explorer, whether you take “EcoBoost” to mean the fuel-economy-optimized four-cylinder option promised last year or the full-speed-ahead Taurus SHO engine that makes the Flex so entertaining to operate. Instead, there’s the single Duratec V-6 that powers most of the big Fords. It’s fast enough and it’s willing to rev when required, but if you want to hustle you’d be better off with a HEMI Durango. This isn’t aimed at the driving enthusiast. Feel free to wave your pink slip at an Enclave or a Pilot, but your neighbor’s RAV4 will show you its taillights.

Who is the Explorer customer? Well, it will have to be somebody with a decent job. Ford’s not a discount car company any more, and it’s trivially easy to bust the $40K mark when specifying an XLT, to say nothing of the Limited. The typical “intender” is probably female, upper-middle-class, image-oriented. She may have a few kids, or she may be an empty-nester. She won’t take the Explorer off-road, but then again, only a very committed few ever did, and they were used-truck buyers, not new-truck buyers. She will like the new styling — I was surprised how many positive comments I received about a vehicle which I personally thought was on the wrong side of visually generic — and she will adore the interior.

As a Ford salesman in the mid-Nineties, I continually struggled to divert Explorer buyers into Taurus wagons. I had a dozen reasons primed and ready to go in favor of the ovoid bull, from fuel economy to crash safety, with a pinch of comfort thrown in. I never made a convert. If you’re in the market for an Explorer, you’re in the market for an Explorer, period, point blank. The Flex is a fabulous vehicle, and “Kashmir” is a fabulous song, but in the long run… she’s buying a “Stairway to Heaven”.

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88 Comments on “Review: 2011 Ford Explorer XLT AWD...”


  • avatar

    Great review.  Cute kid.
     
    I find the styling to be less than exciting as well, but people seem to like it.  The sales numbers look good.  I do like the brown paint.
     
    You don’t say much about how it handles though.  Did Ford tune this CUV to feel like a truck or more like a car?  Your last paragraph makes me think the Flex is the more competent and enjoyable drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll have my own review soon, with a focus on how the new Explorer compares to the Taurus X I recently bought. Drove one a few weeks ago but gave Jack dibs.
      On handling: the new Explorer feels like a very tall, wide car. More agile than I expected, and moderate lean, but numb steering. Firmer and less floaty than the Flex. Also feels smaller than a Flex or a Durango (drove one immediately afterwards).
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      GuernicaBill

      Looking forward to that second review, as another recent Taurus X buyer. Has Ford simply found the right name and exterior for the Freestyle? Or is this another beast entirely? The third row seats sure look familiar.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      There it was…the answer, staring me right in the face. I thought that the Explorer was brand new, yet it somehow looked so familiar. It’s a friggin’ Freestyle/Taurus X under the skin. As soon as I saw the rear hatch with the seat down, and the first two posted comments, it all came together in a eureka! moment.

      If it’s got any of the Freestyle DNA left in it, it will be a far better vehicle than the Explorer it’s replacing.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      I recently had a test drive experience in a new Explorer than genuinely scared me.  It wasn’t because of the vehicle however, but the customer.  In fact, the handling limits of the Explorer are a lot better than I would have guessed, because his weaving in and out of heavy traffic, gunning the throttle to shoot across three lanes before whipping a U-turn at a high rate of speed, and several panic stops when the car in front him us stopped sooner than he expected didn’t upset the Explorer as much as I would have guessed would have happened in a vehicle that size.
       
      I personally think the Flex feels smaller from behind the wheel (as in total vehicle size, both are very roomy inside), but that could be from the better visibility in the Flex.   Visibility isn’t bad in the new Explorer, but you certainly feel like you are piloting a big chunk of vehicle.

  • avatar
    86er

    Buying a Stairway to Heaven, or a Ford Explorer. Same price.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Jack, absolutely brilliant writing with nary a sordid detail to be found! Excellent job! We thought about buying an Explorer once, back in the mid-late 90′s – the shortened wheelbase two-door model, but those editions, 2- and 4-doors just looked off-balance and top-heavy and we wound up with an 1996 Intrepid and later a 2002 CR-V, which she still drives. Why a SUV? Ask my wife: for the dog, of course! I never got into the SUV craze, as I wasn’t fooled by how expensive they were and how much they cost to feed. Yes, a good old station wagon would have been the best way to go, but I didn’t like the ovoid Tauruses and wouldn’t consider anything else. A neighbor had a Ford Expedition and that looked like an Explorer on steroids. The SUV’s have their uses and can carry lots of stuff – our Honda comes in quite handy at times and my daughter drives a Trailblazer that can swallow the Honda, but they’re not for me, although I do like the Escape, but reading about early problems swayed us to the Honda.
    (EDIT): “Stairway to Heaven” – I hate that song!

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Great review. Cute kid. My prediction is Ford will start seeing a very nice jump in sales with the Explorer even with the high gas prices.

  • avatar

    Wonderful review, Jack.  Saw the Explorer at the auto show and felt the same way.  Sticker shock was my only concern. Now you know I’m gonna go there, considering what a sales dud this platform (D4 and D3) has been since 2005…perhaps we need a less famous analogy.
    Perhaps its more like Tears for Fears playing “The Working Hour” instead of “Shout”?
    Then again, January sales of the Explorer are impressive. So it is too early to tell.

    • 0 avatar
      JKC

      I’m glad to hear that Ford is doing well with this car, but why is unclear. The Freestyle DNA is obvious from the rear quarter of the car, and that vehicle never sold well, either as a Freestyle or as a Taurus X. (Too bad… the Freestyle is actually a pretty damned good family hauler.)
      Personally, I cannot wait for this fad of gunslit greenhouses to go away like leisure suits and polyester pants. I prefer to be able to see out of what I’m driving.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      @JKC

      “The Freestyle DNA is obvious from the rear quarter of the car, and that vehicle never sold well, either as a Freestyle or as a Taurus X.”

      I think it’s been stated here before, but could the Freestyle not have sold well because Ford didn’t really market the the very well? I don’t remember seeing more than about 2 commercials for it during the entire run as either a Freestyle or Taurus X. I’m not trying to be a smarta$$ here, but am honestly curious.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      …but could the Freestyle not have sold well because Ford didn’t really market the the very well?

       
      I think that in many families the Flex and Freestyle did not pass the “do I want to be seen driving this” test.  Show both cars to your wife and ask her if she would like to own either one, and odds are she will say no.  Commenter NulloModo probably has much better insight than I do, but no matter how good the car is, it is very hard to sell around ugly.
       
      The new Explorer may just be a made over Flex, but Jullian Michaels is proof that a good makeover can do wonders.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      beans –

      Put it this way.  My wife and I bought a Taurus X in June ’09 almost by accident.  We saw one on a Ford dealer’s lot while looking at a used Pathfinder.  I am a car enthusiast and didn’t even know it existed.  Glad we found it.  An absolutely perfect family car – what they used to call a “station wagon”.  Imagine that.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      You’re right, style does usually win over anything else, unless you’re broke and can’t afford anything but the plug-ugliest thing on the lot and, at the time, I’m sure the Freestyle/T-X did not fit that bill either.

      That being said I personally find the new Explorer Plug-Fugly and I’m not a Ford hater either.

    • 0 avatar
      JKC

      @tankinbeans: I think you’re right: there was an initial trickle of marketing when the car came out, and then it was as if Ford gave up, or forgot that they were making and selling the thing. It also, as others have noted, was really a Ford Five Hundred wagon, and not a well-disguised one at that. To me, that was and is a great part of the car’s charm, but that seemed not to be the case in 2005 when suburan moms all wanted a Hummer H2 or a decommissioned APC.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Toad -
       
      You pretty much have the reasoning down.  The Freestyle/Taurus X looked far too much like wagons, and for some nonsensical reason, US buyers don’t like wagons.   Then again, sense doesn’t seem to factor in to matters of taste – I love wagons, but I absolutely hate minivans.
       
      The Flex seems popular with male buyers from late 20s to around 50, any younger than that and it is too much a family car, and any older and it starts to remind them of a hearse.  Unfortunately, the men who can see the utility and benefits of a Flex appreciate those things because they have families, and those families usually come with a wife, and women absolutely hate the Flex.  I’m not sure why men see wagons as being cool, European, and nonconformist while women see them as hideous and uncool, but that’s probably a question for an anthropologist or psychologist to answer.
       
      The Freestyle/Taurus X/Flex make a lot more sense for a lot of families than the taller and larger crossovers, but you won’t sell many vehicles if you are trying to sell people what they need instead of what they want, and when you have a couple buying together, the first order of business is to get them to both want the same vehicle, so the wagon-esque D3/D4 vehicles never did well in sales, despite all being excellent products.
       
      The great news (for Ford, and for those of us who sell them) is that women absolutely love the new Explorer, and men are generally pretty down with it too.  The Explorer has been what we expected the Fiesta to be (not that the Fiesta is doing badly).  We can not keep them on the lot, they are selling as fast as they arrive, for full MSRP, and people are glad to get them.  We also have about a dozen factory orders for Explorers pending, many of those placed sight-unseen.  January’s sales were good, but they will get even better when production finally ramps up to demand.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Toad –  (I had a longer response, but TTAC ate it, and I don’t feel like typing it all out again)
       
      You are right in that the Freestyle/Taurus X failed on style alone pretty much.  Both were great vehicles, but they, like the Flex, just repel female buyers like sex panther cologne, and as with any kind of major purchase, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
       
      Women do love the Explorer though, so, even if it isn’t as practical as the Flex, it will sell far, far, far better.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      “is that women absolutely love the new Explorer, and men are generally pretty down with it too”
       
      My wife and I must be some sort of matched freaks of nature. Neither of us can stand the new Explorer (or any of the other cookie-cutter current CUVs), and both of us love the Flex. All of them are far larger than anything we’ll likely ever need though. #1 and #2 on her current wish list are the Kia Soul and the Suzuki SX4 hatchback. Nissan Cube is on there somewhere too.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Do not, however, imagine for a single moment that any of the competition is even slightly better in this regard

    Sad, then, that the Nissan Versa (which the Explorer is about double the mass and three times the price of) can do a better job at this task.

    Just what the world needs: another big car for short people.  My recollection of the GM Lambdas was similar: not enough seat cushion, not enough legroom, floor too high, second row cramped, third row really cramped, cargo space notional at best.   And yet the Flex (which fits people very well) got murdered bv the Traverse.

    • 0 avatar
      dave-the-rave

      It’s no secret that the Flex looks too weird for most people.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      It’s no secret that the Flex looks too weird for most people.
       
      I just don’t get why so many people react badly to the design of the Flex. To me, it looks very much like what it is… a simple efficient box with a bit of style, to contain lots of interior in as little space as possible. Aside from ride height, it looks very much like a Range Rover. And nobody dings the RR for looking “weird”.
       
      I think CUV drivers dislike the look of the Flex because it forces them to face the truth. That they’re driving a large station wagon, just like their parents did.
       
      RR: http://robson.m3rlin.org/cars/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/range_rover_sport_arden_2006_4.jpg
      Flex: http://flex-ford.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/2009-ford-flex2.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      Like most I like the Flex, and think it has a ton of utility…but was shocked to see anybody compare it to a Rover!

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      @Steve — Aside from the slab sides and front, it doesnt really look like a Range Rover.  The RR has a sloped back window, that alone does wonders for the shape, from an appearance point of view.  The Flex is very upright, which creates better interior space, but looks old fashioned.  It also appears extra long, probably because of the longer wheelbase over the RR.  Same thing… better space but not as eye-pleasing.  Plus… well, it sits low like a car.  I think if they just jacked up the suspension on a Flex and put big wheels, it would have been more appealing to the eye.

      And of course, the biggest reason period:  Driving an RR lets you show off how wealthy you are… driving a Flex is, well, as you said… admitting you drive a station wagon.  SUVs sell for the image.  You can get most of the practicality and look cool to your friends.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      The problem with the Flex is the same as the problem with the Freestyle/Taurus X; the styling is too reminicent of a station wagon, and the only thing women see as more of a Mommy-mobile that a mini-van is a station wagon. Which is really unfortunate because as the owner of a station wagon I can tell you that they can’t be beat for comfort, flexibility and function with its folding rear seats and low deck height. It rides and handles like a car yet carries almost as much people and/or cargo as a mini-van, and more than most CUVs. But such is the problem of putting form ahead of function.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      It is definitely a subjective taste: I’m a big fan of the Flex’s slab sides and its “maxi-Mini” look. And I’m an adherent of that small group that knows wagons are cool, as evinced by my own choice of ride for the past 3 decades. Even the Suburban I drove around was used more for hauling people than cargo, which explains part of the Flex’s appeal to me. I still want to see a proper evergreen paint with white roof cap version made available: in addition to appealing to my favorite color aesthetic, that would scream out for the aftermarket Scotchcal treatment. Or perhaps some side graphics depicting an EMD series locomotive.

      And thank you Jack; you have reminded me it’s time to dust off my Stairways to Heaven CD and enjoy its mutated riffs on a modern classic. “Warning: Not for purists! The greatest song in rock and roll history gets a new haircut. 12 times.” You either love the album – or you didn’t read the warning.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Felis -
       
      I’m with you on the green.  Ford hasn’t come out with a nice medium to dark green color in a long time.  We’ve had the almost-black Atlantis green (that disappeared after one model year, mainly because people kept thinking the cars in that color were just dusty black ones), the slightly yellowish Kiwi Green, and now the hi-liter bright Lime Squeeze used on the Fiesta, but no nice pine needle green.  I’d be all over that.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Count me among those who like the way the Flex looks, and someone who see shades of Mini and RR in the Flex’s shape/roof.
       
      Oh, and dark green flavors of any ride would be nice. The only shades of green you see on the roads are ’90′s vintage puke-teal Accords, and whatever bile-substance Ford is rubbing on the Fiesta’s “green.”

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      For would do well to bring back the 1990′s Deep Jewel Green and Medium Willow Green. Those colors were very classy.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Interesting that you say the interior is that nice. It doesn’t look it from the pictures, or at least the ‘center stack’ doesn’t. I was in fact about to make a comment that it looks a bit Koreanesque when I read that but I guess I’ll refrain from doing so now.

    Other than that seems like a pretty decent vehicle like most new Fords. Seems that it’s not as strong a proposition as some of Ford’s other offerings compared to the competitors though, which I guess in part is due to said competitors actually offering something decent in this segment as well (Jeep GC).

  • avatar

    Based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, reliability for related Fords has been about average, meaning not as good as some other Fords, but still not bad. I hope to have reliability stats on the new Explorer as soon as possible–just a matter of how soon enough owners get involved.
    http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Great review, Jack.
    If you keep throwing in references to Xzibit and spaceships, you’ll be taking Dan Neil’s job soon.
    Does anybody have a weight comparison between the new Explorer, the Taurus-X, and the Freestyle?  It seems like every generation, this platform has gained about 200 lbs.
     

  • avatar
    Formerlythegreatestdriver

    My word of the day: Oubliette
    Didn’t know it meant dungeon, but then again I never really played D&D.
    “If you are one of those “people’, feel free to go back to Jalopnik and read today’s feature article on hovercrafts, experimental aircraft, celebrity genitalia, or whatever other non-automotive thing they’re doing today. “
    Ouch!

  • avatar
    1169hp

    Has anyone else sat behind the wheel of this new Explorer and felt like a midget??  Whoops. I mean “little person”.    The dash is absolutely friggin’ huge.  I’m not small.   I can imagine a small(ish) female being a little intimidated.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “but putting an infant in the second row will mean discomfort for the people sitting in rows one and three.”

    If there is a set of latches in the middle you might be able to get a rearward facing seat between the front buckets. Works in my fullsize vehicle. I have 3 kids in car seats and I don’t understand how the 3rd row is impacted.

    • 0 avatar
      ktm_525

      How does one access the third row with two child seats fitted outboard in the second row? I have this problem in our LR3.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      You can open up the hatch and flip the third row seats backwards (so that the seatback is laying flat and the cushion is vertical).  I’m not sure how easy and/or safe it would be to try to latch someone child seat in that position and then flip it forwards again though.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    What’s that bottle in the cupholder?  Mouthwash or salad dressing?

  • avatar
    ixim

    My benchmark CUV/SUV/Station wagon for space efficiency is still the [gone 4 years] Buick Rendezvous. Camry-sized outside; 7 real seats for adults OR Tahoe-class cargo space inside. Jack, you are so right – this new Explorer is so pandering to security-conscious moms – I know several of them and they all like it for exactly that reason. Going on 2-1/2 tons with less space for people or stuff than the Buick? Now, if only they’d put the Lambda drivetrain in that old Rondy…

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Good review.
    I especially like how you address child seats.
    For many vehicles, this issue is a total killer and completely alters decision making. We are in the age of bigger families and we are required to put those kids in car seats until they are eight years of age. The dinky car people want to slam big vehicles, but are completely ignorant about this. Few raising a big family want or can spend an extra $15,000, as we have other important things to do with money. We have bigger vehicles because we must have them by Law.

    I have twins in car seats. This makes the situation worse because instead of having differing abilities of development enabling a parent to seat young children within their car seats, some of whom can buckle themselves, or one that car follow directions to move around second seats toward their car seat in a third row, my wife and I had to deal with two oversized car seats that prevented access to the third seats since car seats for infants and toddlers prevent the seat that is latched to be folded forward, and often prevents the seat from being slid forward for third row access. Buckling up an infant and toddler in the third row is not realistic, even when attempted via the tailgate.

    While I solved the problem by getting a Panther body Ford with a rear bench wide enough to fix the infant seats at each door and another child seat between them for the bigger pre-schooler, this is an outdated vehicle no longer being made. And, this will not work for the next kid. Really, did you think we would ever face a time when a Ford Crown Victoria, a Mercury Grand Marquis or a Lincoln Town Car was too small for a family of six? Thanks to the Law, they now are!

    The Explorer looks great and I wish Ford well in sales. It will be nice to see an American brand sell high quality vehicles accepted by today’s buyers. Go USA!

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve fit three car seats in the back of  Protege, PT Cruiser, and Contour. The last was especially tight, and required that the two outboard seat be narrow Graco boosters. But it simply is not necessary to have a large vehicle to fit three seats.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I can fit 2 “large” car seats and a booster seat in my Outback just fine. But, it won’t seat 6 due to the manual shifter front and center.

      And it’s made in America too.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The largest challenge is rear-facing infant seats.  Older kids can easily use a narrow-back booster and you can fit three of those abreast in a subcompact, but rear-facing seats stick out quite far—much further than an adult passenger’s knees—and do so right into the path of the front seats.
       
      Most people don’t notice this, but most people also install the seats incorrectly:
      * They must be inclined properly (there’s often a parallel-to-ground line). Many people have them too far upright.
      * They must not come within 1-2″ of the backs of the front seats and absolutely must not touch them.  The seat is actually designed to move in an accident so as to reduce the movement of an infant’s head.  Young children (especially if they’re not walking) can be paralyzed or killed by the kind of motions that might give an adult either a sore neck or mild whiplash.
      * You should rear-face your child as long as possible (see the weight limits of the seat) for the above reason.
       
      And before we start down Good Old Days lane, yes, we didn’t used to do this.  Yes, thousands of Betty Draper-a-likes let their kids ride on the parcel shelf and they turned out ok.  We also let kids chew lead paint-covered toys.  Not too long ago we thought that hanging people upside-down and slitting open veins was a good idea, too.  Personally, I’d rather not have my kid paralyzed out of ignorance of modern kinesiology.

      Incidentally, this is where smartly-packaged vehicles really show their stuff. Any modern minivan makes this a non-issue: you can fit four child seats (two rear-facing) and keep some access to both rows. Smaller cars that aren’t Lutzian in their design (the Versa, again, comes to mind) will let you fit two seats rear-facing—something I doubt this Explorer can do, and something that most mid- and full-size sedans can’t, either.

    • 0 avatar
      JKC

      The reason my wife and I sold her old Subie Impreza was that the back seat was not compatible with a rear-facing infant seat… at least not if both of us wanted to ride along.
      Back when all three of mine were in proper car seats (not boosters) it was possible to fit three avreast in a Passat estate. Tight, but a good snug fit. The fact that it was a relatively flat bench (like in a Panther) helped a lot.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Not sure what world you live in, but we are most definitely NOT in the age of big families.  That age was my grandparents age, where everyone had 3 or 4 kids, oftentimes more.  Myself, age 40… I know maybe 2 or 3 people in my age group who have more than 1 sibling.  People these days wait longer to start families (smart move!), and have small families… 1 or 2 children.  I am a complete oddity for having 3 kids.  But, the only reason I have 3 kids is because I remarried to a wonderful woman with 2 kids already… I had 1 before we met.  I never had 3 together in car seats, and even if i did, having all 3 together is a part-time deal at most.

      Who can afford to have 3 or more kids these days???  If you do, you suck it up and buy a minivan, they are PERFECT for you.  Why would you screw around with a Panther?  For most people, I think almost any mid-size sedan will hold 2 car seats just fine.  I made do with a Civic coupe when I had an infant, I think the current huge Accord will work just as well. 

      And if you plan well, you have one coming out of car seats before the second one comes along.  Having them close together is too much work!!!

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Screwing around in a Panther is possibly what got him into this mess…

  • avatar
    segfault

    Visibility must be awful with the high windowsills and huge D-pillars, especially for shorter people.

  • avatar
    carve

    That’s not how the yo-dawg meme works.  I’ll let the professors at “know your meme” take over…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1wZbIdlSTI

    The best way I can think of adapting yours is “Yo dawg- I heard you like luxury SUVs, so we put an Audi Luxury SUV in your Ford luxury SUV so you can drive a luxury SUV while you’re driving your luxury SUV”

  • avatar
    mikedt

    Part of me thinks I will never buy a new car because I like analog controls. I shouldn’t have to take off my gloves to work the environment controls, I shouldn’t have to take my eye off the road so that I can concentrate on hitting a 1/2 inch square virtual button on a touch pad. And god knows how much that electronic crap is going to cost to replace (there is no repair) when it dies.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I mostly agree, I tend to prefer an analog control for anything (radios, thermostats-I’ll never part with my Honeywell Round). However, there are less moving parts and more solid state connections in a touch pad, so it should be reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      +1 mikedt.  My 160k mile car is running great currently but I’ve at least considered ‘locking-in’ a car with analog controls now, before the touchscreen craze is completely ubiquitous.  Having a screen is ok, the key issue is touch capabilities (makes things like an Audi ok since the dial controls everything).  Touch simply doesn’t work in the winter, as Jack so eloquently puts in this review, although is there some sort of ‘click touch’ similar to the blackberry storm?

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      You guys all understand that once you achieve a little familiarity with the vehicle you’ll never have to touch the center stack, right? After a while you stop even glancing at it to verify that your voice command indeed did what it was supposed to do.

  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    We have a Freestyle which my wife loves, tried to get her to try the Flex but she thought it was so big, square and ugly that she wouldn’t even sit in it. When she saw the new Explorer she said “Oh they updated the Freestyle” she likes it and when we are done with the Freestyle she will get one.

    I admit that the car seat issue influenced our decision to buy the Freestyle. My wife had a 4Runner and it was too narrow to put three kids in the back. The kids are now 15, 13 and 2 and they, and all their junk, fit into the Freestyle.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I wonder how the rear differential deals with heat when used continously on a non-paved or muddy/snowy road.

    I just had an Acadia rental in central Cal, after a days worth of rain left every farm road in 2 inches of mud. The AWD deactivated due to the rear diff overheating with another 8 miles to get back onto a paved road. Took some time to get there, FWD was no use.

    I guess Hertz doesn’t understand the difference between a 4WD and an AWD vehicle. They usually give me an XTerra, I should have upgraded to a truck if I had known the Acadia would not suffice so well. Live and learn.

    Would the Terrain system on the Explorer have helped any better, I wonder.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Since this ain’t an off-roader why even bother with a terrain dial? There should just be an on/off switch. However Spaceship mode sounds cool, so I would just leave it in that setting ALL the time especially since I hate Snowflakes of any size.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “I’ve fit three car seats in the back of  Protege, PT Cruiser, and Contour.”

    I had two boosters and a forward facing Britox seat in a Avalon rental once and that was tight. So I have a really hard time believing you did the same thing in a Protoge or like. The reality is that most vehicles simply cannot fit 3 car seats across. This is especially true if you fasten the car seats using the safer/better latch systems instead of the belts. 

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      Also depends on the child seat. Some of them are freakin’ huge and others only huge. Also makes a big difference if they’re front or reward facing.
      But as I and others have said before, if your goal is hauling the family with kids in child seats, nothing beats a minivan. I know it’s not macho, but you’re married now so who cares? You’re not picking up chicks anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      You just need the right seats.  Look up Sunshine Kids cars seats.  Built like tanks, lots of steel, very heavy, NCAP tested (and expensive) – but narrow enough to fit three across in virtually any car.  Many child seats are unnecessarily poofy.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    “…just in case the aliens are police aliens looking to write tickets for street racing.”

    Jack is going to get me busted for reading TTAC at work… I laughed out loud at this one…

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I think this thing looks competitive.  I like the style (in photos).  Maybe its massive.  But I really don’t like the “women” design, “feel safe” kinda stuff.  Just seems like it would be a good CUV/Wagon with a bit of ability in the slippery stuff, well made, and roomy even with 5 people in it.  I’m not at the point where I’d buy one, but seems like it should be a decent car.
     
    guess if I really thought about it, I’d probably be more a JGC or 4Runner kinda person anyway.
     
    I’m also always asking this question: Edge, mid size, seats five.  Explorer is slightly bigger, seats 7 (tightly), Flex large and seats 7.  Is the only reason Explorer gets picked because of style?  Seriously?
     
     

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Personally I love the Flex, styling and all, and yes I have ridden in one and loved it.  But I’m sure you guys can figure out the math here.
     
    It’s 2011, I’m engaged to a fetching young maiden whom is a licensed teacher in the state of New Mexico, as am I.  Right now she drives a Pontiac Vibe and professes a love of all things CUV.  We are both moving up the teacher license ladder this year (provided we pass our dossier submissions) and will be given nice raises for our trouble.  We’re getting married in 2012 and she professes a love of large families.  I see CPO Explorer key fob on her “Toy Story” key chain in my future.
     
    At least the vehicles that make women feel safe are getting nicer and more “wagon like.”  Thank god for small favors.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I wasn’t going to aggravate you today, but I like your post. First: The Ford Flex is a very nice vehicle and if it were a little smaller, or if I had a need for a vehicle like that, the Flex would be my choice, hands down. I like the look, too, it’s different and an efficient use of space. Second: I wish you and your future bride all the best on your upcoming tests, as you seem like you truly care about your profession. My daughter is a teacher, too. Third: Lay the groundwork now, for I see a Ford Flex in your future for the reasons you mentioned! Congratulations!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      You never aggravate me.  I wholly appreciate anyone who would take great pains to turn his Impala into more of a “real” Impala instead of a “Bel Air.”  (Remember, I’m one of those guys who thinks that Chevy had real guts to dare to release an Impala with less than 6 tail lights.)  You make me want to go buy a Buick Lucerne and peel the badges off and replace them with “Park Avenue” or “Electra”; perhaps getting ahold of a Ford Five Hundred and replacing the letters with the actual #500 and “Galaxie” infront of that.

      The Ford Flex did a great job of laying groundwork for itself.  She and I rode in one while visiting the lovey city of Chiago, visiting her sister.  The Flex was our ride back to the airport.  Black with somber but comfy black leather interior.  She still says… “that Flex was nice.”  But cringes a bit at the styling. 

      I appreciate the kind words and the well wishes. 

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I think the Flex is great as well…if I could convince my wife we only need 1 vehicle, then the Flex would be it (alternatively, a Taurus X). Early models are hitting just under $20k now. FWD would be okay, with some snows.

      I’d even give up my beloved Outback with all-terrains and a manual transmission. Or maybe wait a few years and let this new Explorer come down in price. My dad’s 07 has been great, but we don’t need a V8 4×4. As long as I could lock in the AWD for non-paved roads, I’d be fine.

      Ahh…1 vehicle family would be awesome. So much (percieved) savings.

  • avatar
    hurls

    Good writing as always Jack. One complaint:
     
    I went to Jalopnik on the promise of “celebrity genitals” and all I got was an eyeful of that stupefyingly awful Gawker redesign. My brain hurts now.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    “As a Ford salesman in the mid-Nineties, I continually struggled to divert Explorer buyers into Taurus wagons.”
     
    If you were selling Fords now, you wouldn’t have to, since that’s what the new Explorer is.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Well CUV-izing the Explorer should open up space for a Bronco revival…
     
    …right?

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    This Explorer exists for one simple reason.  Ford needed something, anything to slap the severely damaged Explorer name on.
     
    It’s virtually the same as the Flex…which is nothing more than a Taurus wagon.  And to say that the Flex is outstanding is false…the only thing outstanding about the Flex is the fact that it’s sales have been horrid since day one.
     
    There is more competition between the Flex and Explorer than any other vehicle out there…which is understandable because they are virtually the same vehicle…only the Explorer has the half-assed MyFord Touchy thingy and a terribly styled exterior.
     
    The Explorer suffers from all the same problems that all the new Ford’s and Lincoln’s have…ugly, uncompetitive, full of electronic gimmicks to mask the shortcomings, and they are severely over-priced.
     
    Plus, the Explorer has ALREADY been recalled.  Bold moves indeed.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      bizzarodave

      I must admit, I really enjoy reading your comments here on TTAC.  I don’t know I’ve ever run into anyone who’s such an unabashed Ford hater, and I find that refreshing.

      I still think you’re living in a different reality most of the time though, but that has no impact on your entertainment value.

    • 0 avatar
      windycity11

      I do question the base Explorer though. Hubcaps on an almost 30K vehicle?

  • avatar

    great, hilarious review. love your writing style.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    Great review, Jack! I always thought that the Freestyle should have been called Explorer from the get-go. Thank you for reminding me why I don’t read Jalopnik anymore: that photo of Steve McQueen’s junk.

  • avatar

    The front lip spoiler is falling off at the corner.

    • 0 avatar
      windycity11

      Huge design flaw by Ford on this. The air dam is not designed to be removed, and it can easily get caught on snow or other objects (parking blocks, or steep driveways) and be pulled off. With the cold temps the plastic can and will break as well, requiring either a replacement fascia (if the fascia is damaged) or a new lower piece….which will in turn do the same thing again (and the cycle will repeat).
      At this point there isn’t a solution to the problem.

  • avatar
    derek533

    Been a proud Flex owner since April of 09 (yeah, I liked it that much to be one of the early adopters).  The only way I was able to convince my wife to give it a shot, was to have her sit in it.  Lost in all this discussion, is that people don’t realize (if they haven’t sat in one) how nice the interior is and upscale it is.  We have two sons (God help us) who are 4 and 2.  Both of their seats fit perfectly in the second row and there is still enough room for an adult to slide between the front of the second row to the void in between the seats to get the third row (we didn’t get a second row center console for this reason).

    We are averaging 21mpg in mainly city driving and when we do go on a trip, we get close to 25-26mpg which is absolutely incredible considering how large of a vehicle this thing really is.  Those wide seats are comfortable and I could drive all day in that thing if need be.  So far (knock on wood), it has also been extremely reliable.
    It just looks darn cool to boot.
     
    The Explorer will sell a ton just based on the fact it’s not a minivan and not a Flex. So I guess the formula for success is to take a great vehicle that has a perception problem (Freestyle, Flex) and jack it up a little and call it an SUV or super hip CUV.

  • avatar

    I’d love to see someone tow their 5k trailer coast-to-coast… And we can have a look at the sheet-metal afterwards.

    This reeks of someone buying an F-350 and dropping a king-pin hitch system in it. Why the hell do you want to over-work your F-350 for the same price as a proper rig? Your pickup was not meant to tow semi-sized loads. You’re only fooling yourself if you think otherwise.

  • avatar
    cathyo

    Need help with decision between 2012 Explorer xlt and Honda pilot- I love Hondas, I’m used to them, I feel confident in the pilot. But let’s face it, doesn’t have the luxury the Explorer has..but I’m not feeling too secure with all that space around me in the drivers seat- I feel like I’m on a pedestal almost. I had an Edge a few years back and loved it- but I remember when our lease was up I felt relieved to be back driving my accord, so effortless. My brother works for Ford so getting a huge discount that I feel stupid to pass up…help! Which car???


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