By on February 21, 2011

I thought the Ford Freestyle would sell well because it was so incredibly functional. It didn’t, even if I bought one myself (in updated Taurus X form). I thought the Ford Flex would sell well because it combined even more room and comfort (if inferior visibility) with the style of a MINI. It hasn’t done well, either. But Ford hasn’t given up. For the 2011 model year the Explorer, which ruled the SUV segment through the 1990s, has been transferred to the Volvo-derived platform that provided the basis for both the Freestyle and the Flex. Why might its fate be different?

In a word: styling.

The Freestyle looked like a large wagon. Wagons, as much as driving enthusiasts love them, fell out of public favor about a quarter-century ago. The Freestyle, along with its Five Hundred sedan counterpart, also demonstrated that too few Americans were interested in Fords that looked like supersized B5 Passats. Bauhaus has never possessed broad appeal on this side of the Atlantic.

So the Flex went in a very different direction, making a much stronger design statement that, despite some British influences, was clearly American. This statement connected strongly with some people but repulsed far more. It didn’t help that the Flex retained the proportions of a station wagon.

In contrast, the new Explorer is proportioned like an SUV. Compared to the Freestyle, it’s three inches less lengthy (197.1), four inches wider (78.9), and a couple inches taller (70.4). The hood and beltline have shifted skyward even more than the roofline. Between these proportions and clean-but-bold styling, the new Explorer looks athletic and even tough in a way the Freestyle and Flex never have. There’s something different here, especially in the shape of the nose, so the new Explorer won’t get lost in a sea of crossovers. But it’s not so different that people will be scared away. After two failures that went against industry trends, Ford has given the market the exterior styling it wants in a crossover.

The new Explorer’s interior is dominated by the new MyFord Touch system, which includes a pair of a small LCD displays flanking an analog speedometer and a large touchscreen in the center stack. This system has come under fire for difficulty of use, but aesthetically it makes the interiors of the Freestyle, Flex, and every competitor appear dated. The base audio system includes raised touch-sensitive controls on matte black plastic. The optional Sony audio system substitutes a totally smooth glossy black panel. Use the sophisticated voice controls (which do involve a learning curve of their own) and the hard-to-use non-buttons can largely be avoided.

Aside from these controls, the styling of the new Explorer’s interior is more conventional than that of the Flex. Materials are above average for the class, if not luxurious. Soft polymers cover the instrument panel and doors. And yet the door panels still appear cheap, courtesy of “stitching” that is far-too-obviously fake. Because with more convincing faux upholstery it’d be a Lincoln? GM included similar stitching in the 2007 Saturn AURA, only to remove it a year later following intense criticism. Apparently GM’s lesson wasn’t learned in Dearborn.

Climb into the driver’s seat and the dramatic changes continue. The wider body translates into three additional inches of shoulder room, for a noticeably beamier cabin. The instrument and door panels seem massive. I generally set the driver’s seat in its lowest position, but felt compelled to raise that in the new Explorer. There’s plenty of headroom in which to do this—I could have worn a top hat. Even with the seat raised visibility takes a hit—the A-pillars are massive and the others are also fairly wide. The cloth seats are overly mushy (can a seat be appropriately mushy?); for long-distance comfort the firmer leather buckets should be better, if still not as good as the thrones in the Flex.

Like in the Freestyle and Flex the second row is a comfortable height off the floor. But, despite what the spec sheet suggests, there’s less second-row legroom than in the Freestyle much less the limo-like Flex. There’s enough room for adults, but not enough for them to stretch out. It helps that there’s plenty of room for even boot-clad feet beneath the front buckets. But it’s necessary to fold the headrests before folding the second-row seats—otherwise they hit the front seats. (The second-row headrests in the new Dodge Durango must also fold, but do so automatically when the seat is folded.) Dimensions in the third row are similar to those in the Freestyle and Flex, so two adults will fit knees-high in a pinch.

When the third row is upright there’s a deep well behind it, an advantage over many crossovers. The innovative system for folding the third-row seats to form a low, flat floor carries over from the Freestyle and Flex. It’s so easy to operate that the optional power-folding third-row would not remotely be worth its additional cost and complexity even if it weren’t much slower. Despite the wider body, the Explorer’s cargo area isn’t significantly wider than the Freestyle’s. The additional inches appear to have disappeared into the sidewalls. Factor in the truncated rear overhang, and there’s a little less total cargo volume than in the Freestyle. But the difference wouldn’t be significant except for one other change: unlike those in the Freestyle and Flex, the new Explorer’s front passenger seat does not fold. So you won’t be transporting a kayak (or very long ladder) inside the car. This potential—which I might never actually use—is one of the things that initially attracted me to the Freestyle. Being able to fold every seat save the driver’s to form a very long, totally flat load floor is a thing of beauty to some of us.

Outfitting the Freestyle for soft-roading apparently involves adding a lot of pounds. The all-wheel-drive Explorer tips the scales at 4,750, an increase of over 500 compared to the Taurus X (essentially a Freestyle with a 3.5-liter V6 and conventional automatic). The 3.5-liter V6 from the Freestyle and Flex has been tweaked to bump peak horsepower by 27, to 290, at 6,500 rpm. Mid-range power (as indicated by peak torque) receives much less of a bump. Given the curb weight increase, acceleration is more leisurely than in the Freestsyle, but still easily quick enough for the way the Explorer asks to be driven. (There’s not a whiff of sports car here.) As in other applications, the Ford 3.5-liter V6 sounds a little gruff and pedestrian when revved. The six-speed automatic carries over, but unlike in the Freestyle and unboosted Flex it can be manually shifted, via a toggle on the shifter. This feature isn’t only useful in sports cars. I badly missed the ability to hold the transmission in a specific intermediate gear while traversing muntainous West Virginia in my Taurus X this past weekend.

Those seeking more power are out of luck, at least in the near term. Ford’s twin-turbocharged V6 won’t be offered, at least not this year. Instead, a turbocharged four will be available with front-wheel-drive. The turbo four is considerably less powerful than the V6 (237 HP), but about equally torquey. Will Americans be willing to spend an extra $1,000 for two-to-three more MPG? Despite its additional mass, even with the V6 the Explorer is more fuel efficient than the Freestyle with a 3.5 (a.k.a. the Taurus X). I get 16.5 around town in my Taurus X. In the Explorer the trip computer reported 18.5 in similar driving. The EPA ratings back this up: 15/22 in the Taurus X AWD, they’re a more competitive 17/23 in the Explorer AWD. Whatever enables the much heavier Explorer to get better fuel economy…I want it in my car.

The suspension tuning is firmer than in the Flex, but not as firm as in the Freestyle. Given the size, weight, and mainstream mission of the new Explorer, it handles well, if not sportily. The steering provides little feedback, but it’s nicely weighted and quick. When hustled, the new crossover feels a half-size smaller and lighter than it actually is—bearing in mind that it’s tall, wide, and heavy and the driving position will never let you forget this. The Explorer likes to rotate, and so feels more agile than the Flex (such things being relative) if decidedly less car-like than the Freestyle. Body motions are somehow better-controlled than in the lower, more firmly sprung Freestyle, and both understeer and lean in hard turns are moderate. The proactive stability control (“curve control” in Ford-speak) operates transparently most of the time. The ride is usually smooth and very quiet. At idle the engine is nearly silent.

Crossovers happened because people will pay substantially more for them than for a wagon or a minivan. I drove a fairly low-end 2011 Explorer, an all-wheel-drive XLT with Package 201A (MyFord Touch, rearview camera, dual automatic HVAC), Towing Package, and floormats. The list price: $36,645. It’s possible to option an Explorer well over $40,000. A similarly-equipped 2009 Ford Taurus X listed for about $4,000 less. Adjusting for the Explorer’s additional features using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool cuts the difference to about $1,500, which seems very reasonable. But Ford had rebates of up to $4,000 on the Taurus X, vs. $1,000 currently on the new Explorer. So in terms of transaction prices the increase is considerable. Looking at current competitors, a comparably equipped new Dodge Durango tends to be a few hundred dollars less than the new Explorer.

I was especially eager to drive the new 2011 Ford Explorer because I recently bought a 2008 Taurus X. Will I later want to swap to the new vehicle? Now that I’ve been able to compare the two, I’m not feeling the urge. The Explorer’s styling definitely has broader appeal. And the MyFord Touch looks great and is fun to play with even if it’s not always easy to use. But while smooth, quiet, and composed the Explorer drives less like a car. It’s also harder to see out of, has less legroom in the second row, and its front passenger seat doesn’t fold. In other words, functionality didn’t sell, so it wasn’t nearly as high a priority this time around. Nevertheless, I expect the new Explorer to sell much better than the Freestyle, Taurus X, or Flex ever did. Will I be wrong once again? Probably not. My personal priorities aren’t widely shared. Conventionally attractive styling does sell and the new Explorer looks the part while doing everything else well enough or better.

Frank Cianciolo, an excellent salesperson at Avis Ford in Southfield, MI, provided the car for this review. Frank can be reached at 248-226-2555.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Check Jack Baruth’s take on the 2011 Explorer here.


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76 Comments on “Review: 2011 Ford Explorer Take Two...”


  • avatar
    Philosophil

    It’s funny because I actually agree with you about the Flex and the Freestyle (Taurus X). I would much prefer either of those to the Explorer, but there is something about this quasi-SUV styling that seems to attract more people, though I honestly don’t know what it is…

    • 0 avatar
      cmoibenlepro

      I guess people think that the Flex looks like an hearse.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      On the upside, however, is the fact that I can buy a used Flex or Freestyle in a few years to replace my 2002 Sable wagon and get the benefit of massive depreciation. Styling-conscious buyers’ loss is the function-conscious buyers’ gain. I’ve never known whether to be happy or sad that my wagon regularly was at the bottom of the list of most-stolen cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yeah I’ve often wondered if you broke down the statistics for stolen vehicles from back when most “family sedans” came as sedans, coupes, and wagons if the wagon was always the “least stolen.”  (For example: with the GM A-body FWD cars were the wagons least stolen?) 

    • 0 avatar

      ClutchCarGo,
      This was my thinking, though I ended up getting a Taurus X recently instead of the Freestyle because I found and deal and because I preferred its powertrain. I still prefer the styling of the Freestyle.
      Oddly enough, since it’s much lighter than the Explorer, I have never been able to get my mother to consider the Freestyle / Taurus X as a replacement for the Taurus / Sable wagons she’s driven ever since 1986. She finds them too large and too much like an SUV. So the Explorer certainly won’t fly with her.

    • 0 avatar
      thehomelessguy

      I’ve actually always wanted a flex. It’ll be sad that, by the time I can afford one, they won’t be around. Seriously, if I wont the lottery my only two big purchases would be a flex and a corvette.
       
      I’ve always thought Ford made the MKT so butt ugly to make the Flex sell better.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Having driven both a lot, I prefer the Flex to the Explorer as well.  The seats alone seal the deal for me – the Flex just has the best seats of any current car I’ve driven, but the ride quality, visibility, and quirky styling draw me to the Flex as well.
       
      That being said, those of us who prefer the Flex are in a distinct minority.  The new Explorer is the hottest vehicle Ford has put out in years, and we can’t keep them on the lot.  I hope that Ford continues to offer the Flex and doesn’t let it whither on the vine.  Sales of the Flex aren’t horrible, they just aren’t wonderful, and I think it has a place as a premium niche wagonish vehicle.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Curious as to what is decidedly difficult to ascertain.
    What cost/benefit regarding buying the unit exists within the potential buyer’s brain.
    With what I believe are too-high asking prices for new vehicles could other cheapskates such as I (or those with minimal discretionary bucks) be looking for cheap; among both new and used?
    For sundry reasons as mentioned hereabouts in various articles and comments, even used prices are tending to be in the “high” category.
    News articles and essays are communicating propaganda; oh, things aren’t fixed yet BUT things are getting better.
    Yeah. Right.
    From many comments left at various sites I note few folks agreeing, but, instead, disagreeing.
    And many folks declare an actual personal economic decline for themselves and co-workers, neighbors, kin, etc.
    You can fool some of the folks via lies but after decades of that the age-old tactic appears to becoming increasingly futile.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    @Phil:
    Same here. But it has been proven time and again that car enthusiasts have an entirely different set of criteria than mainstream car buyers do. Unfortunately for us, most carmakers have to focus on mainstream buyers.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Michael, I always thought the Freestyle looked like a chopped and sectioned Explorer than a station wagon. I never understood why it didn’t sell but I think that looking so much like an Explorer made the thing invisible to its target market.

  • avatar
    N Number

    While I understand that they share the same platform and fit into the same market, I found the Flex/Explorer comparisons a bit distracting.  The Flex and Taurus X have been out of production for two years.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      ???

      The Flex was in production the last time I checked…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Your 2011 Flex.  Build and price, Amigo. 

      http://www.ford.com/crossovers/flex/?kw=ford%20motor%20company&space=Carswww.fordvehicles.com/trucks/superduty/trim/?trim=f250xl

    • 0 avatar
      N Number

      Replace Flex with Freestyle in my earlier comment.  I know the Flex is still around and warrants comparison with the Explorer.  I was getting my F-models mixed up.

    • 0 avatar

      I felt the Freestyle / Taurus X was relevant for a few reasons:
      1. It was Ford’s first shot at serving the large crossover segment. We have a progression of Freestyle => Taurus X => Flex => Explorer as Ford tried to figure out what would sell.
      2. Many people initially thought the Explorer was just a restyled Freestyle / Taurus X, but it’s actually packaged much differently.
      3. I always liked the Freestyle, and recently bought a Taurus X. This one would only be relevant to me, except that when I wrote up my purchase it became clear that many people here were also fond of the car. Maybe the Explorer would be that car reborn? See #2.
      A lot has been reworked, but the other vehicles off this platform have tended to be about average in reliability, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Most likely the Explorer will be similarly about average. I’d like to have stats as soon as possible.
      About the Car Reliability Survey:
      http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Frank Cianciolo, an excellent salesperson at Avis Ford in Southfield, MI, provided the car for this review.

    Glad to hear Avis is still there, that’s where I bought my 1997 Escort wagon back in 2000 off of their used car lot.  I remember they had a sea of off lease and employee program Taurus and Sable wagons on their used car lot.  Sigh… if only I had possessed a little more money at that time, I would have driven home with a 24V/DOHC Sable wagon with the dual exhausts.  (Oh well, lost the wagon in a divorce so guess I would have just ended up loosing a car I liked even better.) 

    I wish America would wise up and get functional.  The only reason the Five Hundred, Freestyle/Taurus X, and pre-restyle Taurus stay on my used car “short list” is the roomy functionality of the whole package.  Yeah they’re not swift but even Baruth says they handle well and the rear seat room is SUV like. 

    BTW I do agree with Michael that Ford will sell tons more Explorers than they ever did Flexs or Freestyles.  Although I also predict that wise Ford salesman will do like Jack Baruth did in the early 90s and try to steer people to the Flex over the Explorer. 

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “Yeah they’re not swift but even Baruth says they handle well” Educator Dan: The way I view this subject is: If I can get out of trouble as fast as I got in trouble, it’s a win-win for me!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I have difficulty understanding why anyone would want a vehicle like this for a daily driver, unless your income is sufficient that the cost of feeding these behemoths is immaterial. We own a 2002 CR-V that only gets 21-22 mpg around town and 26-27 mpg on the highway. That’s unacceptable for me with my commute, as my Impala does much, much better, but that’s just me, likewise our MX5. My wife only has a 10 mile R/T commute, so it’s not an issue. I find many of these vehicles quite attractive, but the cost of ownership is daunting to me, at least. Having said that, does a minivan (a now inappropriate term as they are all huge!) make more sense, and is it cheaper to own? I suppose if you need to tow a boat or a camper, a truck would be the better vehicle. Sorry, thumbs down on this.

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      Yes a mini van is cheaper to own, but it doesn’t convey the right image. Men don’t want to be seen in one since it’s not masculine enough and I can only assume women don’t want to be seen in the vehicle their mother’s drove. Personally, since I’m already married, I’m not trying to impress anyone so the purchase of a minivan for our family was a simple one. Smaller initial payment and lower upkeep. And the first time you strap junior in while parked in a crowded parking lot you’re very thankful for sliding doors.

  • avatar
    hansel

    This is a capable FWD  grocery getter . The Grand Cherokee is the better car with RWD   and would be my pick. I expect the Jeep more capable in 4×4 as well. Too bad Ford walked away from efficient diesel engines for their SUV’s . I will stick with the diesel Excursion for towing until it falls apart.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    I’d rather have a Flex than one of these but I’m not about to give any car company nearly 40 grand for any vehicle. The older I get the less I’m willing to spend on a car.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Yeah, there’s that, too. Couldn’t agree more, that’s why our vehicles are 10-year vehicles at least, and, hopefully much, much longer.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      The Flex seems to be pretty popular in Hawaii, though I never saw a single one with a surfboard on top.  I don’t know how anyone in Hawaii can afford a car and gas, let alone a $40,000 car and $4 gas.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      A base model Flex is $30,000 (although I know that prices on the island are higher.)  I know in my area (NW New Mexico) because of a varitey of factors dealers do a brisk business in stripped down basic versions of whatever model you can think of. Especially trucks. 

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t get too wedded to the numbers, inflation is here. A year ago my trip to Costco was $130, now it’s $260. Next year, Yarrises will be pushing $30k.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Bring back a practical station wagon with good handling and power.  These crossover poseurs continue to be ridiculous, both in space utilization and economy.  The problem with the Freestyle and Taurus X was that the seats would fold down, but there were gaps between the seats.  A good wagon would fold the seats flat with no crevices for stuff to fall into.  When will they learn?

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Why can’t manufacturers reduce weight more? That is the key to better fuel economy. One would think that with modern CAD programs, and high strength steel, there would be more weight reduction. Instead, these things just seem to be getting heavier.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The seats look as bad as anything I’ve ever seen in a car. Why is it that Fords all have a threadbare K-car like feel to them even now? The 2010 Focuses and Fusions I’ve been had an air of austerity about them that has long been absent from their competitors that have been racking up high private sales numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      You can get nicer seats in the Limited, with two available grades of leather.
      The Flex has better seats and a more upscale ambiance, though. For the new Explorer Ford seems to have tried to give it some truck flavor, probably to head off criticisms that it’s not enough of an SUV to replace the old Explorer.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    That instrumentation is breathtakingly horrid. How does this stuff make it into production? It looks like a graphic someone ripped off from ToCA Race Driver 3. And a 140 mph speedo too. That’s useful.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Long time no see, Amigo.  (Glad to see ya again.) 

    • 0 avatar

      It looks better in person. But all of the black plastic suggests that Ford hasn’t figured out how to fit the MyFord Touch system into a conventional instrument pod.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      I dunno by my ’95 Explorer has a 120mph speedo and I’ve gotten it to it’s governed 115mph fuel shutoff (5200 rpm). So it the relatively gutless OHV 4.0 v6 can push a slightly smaller brick through the air at triple-digit speeds, I imagine this one can easily top 120.
       
      But yeah, I looked at the new Explorer at the car show and didn’t care for it. Ford should just kill it and be done with it, although it has great name recognition despite the roll-over debacle.

    • 0 avatar
      John Fritz

      Hi Mr. D! You’ve been taking up my slack.

    • 0 avatar
      John Fritz

      Let me add that I don’t mean to just jump in here, slam the instruments and go away. But I really like that vehicle. It looks good (to me), Michael has given it a positive review and it seems that Ford hopefully has another winner to add to its offerings. And then I see that dash and it makes me wonder how Ford misses that sort of attention to detail.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford’s strength has NEVER been attention to detail. GM is much better at finessing the details…when it tries.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Michael has a nose to detail that far surpasses my experience with most customers.  Cases in point include the sound of the 3.5 V6 (which he never misses an opportunity to criticize, while during test drives I’ve had numerous customers tell me how sporty it sounds) and the molded stitching on the armrests (he hates it and thinks it’s obviously fake, the average buyer will give it a cursory glance and either not realize it is there or assume it’s real).
       
      In regard to the instruments, the photo in the article makes the plastic surround look horrible, in person, the gauges look great.  The flash or auto-light balance on the camera shows every nook and cranny, while in person the shade over the gauges throws a shadow over the whole thing so all you really notice are the nice pretty LCD screens.
       
      I get that a review needs to go into details and point out potential flaws, but in my experience the customers for this type of vehicle aren’t nit picking the same details.  Things like whether mirrors fold in when you try to park too close to something, whether there are cupholders for the kids in back, and whether or not there are power points in all the right places are the kinds of details that potential families see.

  • avatar
    denvertsxer

    Dang, look at the silver trim mismatch between the dash and passenger door.

    • 0 avatar

      Good catch. I think I meant to comment on this, figuring the photos would remind me, then forgot to. It’s been a month since I drove the vehicle in the photos, though I drove another the day before writing this review.

      Just sent Ed another photo that shows the full width of the IP, and in it the right side trim is clearly not aligned as well as the left side trim.

  • avatar
    mistermau

    When I bought my Passat Wagon in late ’09, I looked at the Freestyle.  I wanted to like it.  I really did.  The issue was that when I got close to it, it felt so massive. I feel the same way about the new Taurus.  It’s just a huge vehicle.
    That being said, I am waiting for the day I can buy a well-appointed Flex for about $18000.  I covet the Flex.
    Covet.

    • 0 avatar

      The Freestyle is large for a reason–to be able to hold three rows of people and their stuff. The Taurus, on the other hand, has no such excuse.

    • 0 avatar
      lancerfixer

      I love my wife’s Flex, and use every opportuntiy to drive it over my commutermobile (’98 Volvo S70.) 

      When they were first introduced, I was smitten– here’s a functional crossover/wagon with decent mileage for the size, amazing functionality, and (gasp!) good fit and finish and build quality!  Oh, and it looks like the bastard son of a Mini and a Volvo 245, in minivan size.

      My wife hated styling, and wouldn’t even look at one.  Slowly, over the course of, oh, 18 months, she saw a few more here and there and decided, “They’re starting to grow on me.”
      After a couple test drives, she was sold…it combined the best functional elements of her two finalists (Honda Odyssey, Volvo XC90,) and it was the only one in the parking lot at her work (there’s since been another added.)

      We’ve taken it on 1,200 mile road trips with two kids and a golden retriever out back, and it’s returned 26-28 mpg consistently on the highway (better than her previous car, an ’04 Volvo S80.)  It’s been reliable so far, and we’ve been asked about it in parking lots more times than I can count.

      Love this car.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Of all the Explorers Ford has ever built, this one comes closest to interesting me.  But I’ll still never buy one – I just don’t need a $40k SUV.

  • avatar
    v65magnafan1

    I took a look at the new Explorer. A few days later, I bought a CR-V.
    In case you’re wondering, my son gets the Crown Vic, so it’s still in the family.

  • avatar
    william442

    More snow!
    I never thought I would own a car with more than two doors, although I now do. Vehicles like this make no sense to me.
    We kept a Wagoneer at Hatteras, only because it got us to the beach.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    I’ve just always been puzzled how many of these Ford moves.  Explorers are supposed to be the epitome of a “middle-class” family vehicle, yet out the door this model probably costs $45,000.
     
    It just amazes me that a family earning well under 6 figures has the disposable income to buy such an expensive ride that’s worth next to nothing once it gets some miles on it, but then again, I’m cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      DrX

      Right there with you. I really have no concept of the demographic that is buying these vehicles at $40k. The friends and acquaintances that I know that have families (mid-30′s) are not in a position to spend that much on a vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      One like Michael drove in a FWD version retails at about $34,500, the base Explorer (which comes with everything you need – A/C, power everything, cruise, CD) starts at under $30K.  Yes, you can option one out darn near $50K, but no one is forcing anyone to check every option box.  Ford also has a nice lease program on them, so that helps for payment buyers.

    • 0 avatar
      Crosley

      According to the article it was $36,450, and the author considered it to be a “low end model”.  Add on sales tax (which is 10% in my state) license plate tags (another $1,000 at least, they base it on the vehicles value) plus dealer doc fees (around $800), and you’re over $40k.  If you get one with leather, GPS, and 4 wheel drive you’d probably be looking at nearly $50k out the door.
       
      Bottom line, the average one of these new is going for around $40,000 to put it in your driveway.  I don’t consider that to be an affordable vehicle for a middle-class family.  That might be why so many people are a paycheck from being homeless in this country.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Crosley -
       
      Wow, your state does your state at least give you the courtesy of a reacharound with a vehicle purchase?  Michael’s review unit was a 4wd, which adds a couple thousand to the price, and it’s a mid-level XLT, as evidenced by the MyFord Touch system, base models and base trim XLT models don’t have the fancy LCD gauges and big center screen.
       
      Most states seem to average around 6%-7% sales tax, and I thought Florida tag/registration fees were high, but they are well below half that amount even for a new tag (and thankfully not based on vehicle price).  As far as dealer doc fees go, most dealers in this area are around $400 – $600 for a mainstream brand, higher for luxury brands, but there are plenty of states where they are capped at $200 or less, or where competition drives down to lower numbers.  Also, there is a $1,000 rebate on the Explorer currently.
       
      All that said, they are still selling at full sticker (minus rebate) here, and from what I hear, in most other areas of the country as well.  You are looking at mid to upper 30s for one like this out the door depending on whether you want 4wd or not.  Leather and navigation add to the price (although since the screen comes with a previous package nav is only a $750 option) and a loaded limited with tons of tech and luxury features can be over $50K out the door as I mentioned, but you can get out the door in the mid to lower 30s for a more frugally equipped model.
       
      Now, that still isn’t cheap, and a late 20s early 30s couple with their first kid, first house payments, etc, probably won’t be looking to spend that much on a vehicle, but a couple into there 40s with two or three kids who are now into there teens and need more space, and who have worked their way up the ladders at work a bit likely have the money and need for something like this.  The pricing isn’t out of place compared to vehicles like the Traverse, Pilot, Odyssey, or V6 Sienna.
       
      Also, like I mentioned earlier, you can lease one for 60%-80% of what the actual purchase payment would be, which makes them more accessible to a lot of people.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    the frestyle and five hudred failed because they were utterly boring, underpowered and had that horrible CVT. The Explorer will probably be successful because of the legacy Explorer name and they took 6 years to finally improve i.e more power and refinement

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    I notice nobody has mentioned the Edge which is the design language that Ford is referencing. logical too since the Edge is a hit. Now with the Explorer will Ford cancel the Flex?

    • 0 avatar
      lancerfixer

      The Edge is in a different class- it has no third row of seats.
      I think there’s room in the market for both the Flex and the Explorer…Ford needs to do a better job of actively marketing the Flex (especially toward minivan intenders.)

    • 0 avatar

      THE FLEX IS TOO EXPENSIVE and it looks too much like a boxy truck. That’s why it doesn’t sell. The EDGE, however, is attractive and looks more generic – like an RX Lexus.  My problem with it is its much too small.   If I needed one of these crossovers I’d probably take a Flex ecoboost or this Explorer.

  • avatar
    SuperACG

    I have a 2000 Explorer 4×4 and my mom had a 1993 Eddie Bauer…that one has well over 300K miles.  Despite the rollover fiasco, the durability of these trucks built the equity in the name.
     
    I like this new version.  I wouldn’t drive it on some of the roads I’ve taken my Explorer, but it seems capable for family duty and has a decent, usable third row.
     
    What I would really like to see  in this version are the second-row captains chairs with the cooler between them like in the Flex!

  • avatar

    The desire for wagons completely escapes me – although I know Europe and Canada love them.  Here, they simply look too boring and feminine – something Mom would drive.   I haven’t been excited about a truck/SUV since I got rid of my EXT years ago. It’s all about cars now for me.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Wagons aren’t feminine anymore because women run from wagons faster than minivans.  Wagons say ‘I’m practical and above worrying what others think about my style choices’.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Even with the seat raised visibility takes a hit—the A-pillars are massive and the others are also fairly wide.
     
    You ain’t kiddin’. Looks like Ford got a deal on scrap I-beams from the City of Detroit.

  • avatar
    v65magnafan1

    Michael K. wants to know why I purchased a CR-V instead of an Explorer:
    1. My wife’s ’07 Accord has been trouble free and a hoot to drive.
    2. The Explorer was big, but did not have commensurate storage. Gas money out the wahzoo.
    3. The Explo I would have wanted would have cost several thousand dollars more.
    4. The CV-R LX is the version I wanted: no fancy electronics except for stability control–which works perfectly. Believe me. (Fun in the snow).
    5. The customer experience at my local Honda dealer is delightful. The customer experience at my local Ford dealer is 1970.
    6. The CR-V is virtually bug free. The Explo is a new design.
    7. My bro-in-law is on his second CR-V and loves them.
    8. My wife thinks it’s drop-dead cute.
    9. .9% financing and 3% over “wholesale” with big accessory discounts.
    10. The test drive was the deal-maker. The auto 5 sp was connected directly to my brain. “Hey, it seamlessly downshifted exactly when I would have!” “Hey, it upshifted when I wanted it to.” Hey, it sounds Hondaloverly. And the horn is exactly the same the one on my ’86 V65 VF1100C! A sign from above!”

  • avatar
    plunk10

    The name will sell this CUV more than anything else.
    Flex, Freestyle, and Taurus X were the wrong choices for names.  I doubt a Honda Accord CUV will sell well either.  Well known names for CARS shouldn’t be used on trucks or SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      SuperACG

      Freestyle is an “evolution” from Aerostar.  The minivans all had *-star up until Freestar, and then Ford decided to quit the minivans but keep the “free.”  Bad move.  We had a used one on the lot for over a year that just wouldn’t sell!  Taurus X didn’t help either, especially when ford didn’t want it to be a wagon in the first place!

      I think Flex is a decent name because it conveys FLEXibility.  I’d like to see woodgrain on the side…but I’m one of the VERY FEW who actually likes station wagons…

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I could never, ever, own one of these enormous things. Every time I pulled up to the gas pump I would have nervous palpitations. I would watch the gas gauge and trip meter with a sense of impending doom and horror mixed with the faint hope it would go 50 km more this tank than last.
     
    Seriously, gas prices are on the way up again and we will most probably see $4.00 a gallon in the USA again this summer. This won’t do much to help the sales of these enormous things. Imagine a family car that weighs close to 5000 lbs? What are people thinking when they design and buy these things? The cost of ownership is going to be HUGE and it will be like trying to train a whale in a wading pool.
     
    Here in Soviet Canuckistan we are now (in Vancouver, anyway) at $1.25 per litre which translates to $4.80 a gallon. I very rarely see an Explorer, Flex or a Freestyle on the road here.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    Soviet Canuckistan — that’s good.  I can’t remember who called Canada that, but was funny.   In most parts of Canada, gas is over $1.10 a liter (thanks to high taxation on fuel) and rising, so may be challenging to sell this SUV in large quantities north of the border..

    • 0 avatar
      Canucknucklehead

      Dusterdude, it is not challenging to sell an SUV this side of the border, it borders on impossible. Just as it will be practically impossible in the USA when gas returns to $4.00 a gallon.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Here in the Republic of Alberta, SUVs still sell. As do hulking 4×4 pickups.
       
      I think that the typical (blighted) attitude is “it’s our oil and we’re a-goin’ to burn up as much as we can before them Easterners get a-hold of it”. This is best imagined in the voice of Yosemite Sam.

  • avatar
    shortthrowsixspeed

    it appears that the intended audience for this review is limited to people who have spent significant time in the Freestyle and/or Flex, mentioned no less than 24 and 18 times respectively.  As such, I felt a little like the proverbial third wheel, or the one who shows up to see the band only to find that you must be on the “list” to enjoy the show.  bummer.  

  • avatar
    drivebywire

    I would like to know what Ford has done to shore up its roof strength.
    My sources tell me that Ford fought Volvo on this topic, with the result being that the XC90 retained it, and the “new” Explorer dropped it. (concerning, given Explorer’s tragic history)

  • avatar
    aoliveiro

    I am car shopping for the large family vehicle, and to clear up one thing: Mini vans and small crossovers are not cheaper to own than an SUV. They all hover in the mid 30s , and get around 17 city, which is most of the driving I do. How are they cheaper? Also, if you don’t understand the appeal of these vehicles, you don’t have three kids, two who are in rear facing car seats. The small wagon I currently drive won’t fit three car seats, the current crop of vans is lame, so at least the cross-over 3 row vehicles are quite nice. I think though a better review would be to compare it to the Traverse and Durango. Please TTAC, have family men or women review family cars.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    New Explorer has sold well since this was written, a simple name change helped the Freestyle.

    And, many knuckle-draggers predicted it would flop, since it ‘can’t tow a yacht’. But, who really decides what Family Truckster to get? Moms/Wife/Spousal Equiv…

  • avatar
    quoteunquote

    Hi Michael, thanks for the review. I’m curious as to which test vehicle you preferred overall — the JGC or this Explorer, and why?

  • avatar
    outwestnow

    just rented a 2012. It quit, smooth but the minute it hits a bump the ride is harsh. its like there 60psi in the tires. It goes back to National in the morning. I rent the big GM’s and I’m an MDX owner both have their own excellent characteristics in ride/handling without a show stopper like the Explorer’s bumpy ride


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