The Truth About Cars » Explorer The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 20 Jul 2014 16:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Explorer Future Ford Explorers, Expeditions Could Wear All-Aluminium Bodies Thu, 10 Apr 2014 12:36:08 +0000 Explorer Sport rear quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh

As previously reported by TTAC earlier this year, future Ford Explorers and Expeditions could one day wear aluminium bodies.

Edmunds reports the SUVs could easily go aluminium should Ford decided to do so based on the higher base prices of both vehicles being able to sustain the higher cost of the metal. The Explorer and Expedition could see improved fuel economy from the several hundreds of pounds lost as a result.

Alongside aluminium, Ford also aims to improve the engines, transmissions and aerodynamics in their lineup as the automaker seeks to reduce CO2 emissions annually by 4 percent to meet ever-stringent global standards.

The earliest an all-aluminium Explorer or Expedition could come is 2018, as the U.S. metals industry is stepping up aluminium production in anticipation of more Ford products extensively using the lightweight metal.

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Holy Explorer – 2006 Ford Explorer Capsule Review Mon, 12 Aug 2013 15:14:07 +0000 That's not one place. The top is a city in the far south of Jordan, the other two are destinations

For the past two weeks, Your Man in Abu Dhabi is now Your Man in Amman. Being the Best and Brightest, you already know Amman is in Jordan and in addition to being the capital, it is the most populous city is the country.  It is also one of the oldest cities in the world. Jordan itself contains some of the oldest historical sites in the world; including a Roman coliseum, aqueducts and several biblical sites.

At my disposal is a rented 2006 Ford Explorer. So I elected to adopt the name my persona, for a least a day and embark on a mini-pilgrimage along the Dead Sea.

Updated in 2006, the Explorer was put on a new frame and became slightly larger. It also came with a revised cabin, redesigned rear suspension and power-folding third-row seats. This particular well-worn 43,000 mile example is equipped with the standard 210 hp 4.0L 12-valve SOHC V-6 and 5R55W five-speed auto. It also has the standard tire pressure monitoring system (currently broken) along with power seats, locks and pretty capable AC.

Just past 9 AM, I plugged in my iPhone to the plain headphone aux input and hit random. After I was greeted with “Diane” by Material Issue, I set off. Amman has an English speaking pop radio station, but they are in love with new single from Miley Cyrus. I would rather run a carpenter’s plane halfway down my shin.

It was the second day of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan and the roads were deserted. Most of the stores were closed and the majority of folks were off work for four days. I was grateful; Amman is a challenging place to drive, 2nd only to Riyadh Saudi Arabia in my experience. This particular Ramadan has been bad according to an article in the local paper.

gulp gulp gulp. The 2006 Explorer was rated at 14/19 MPG

gulp gulp gulp. The 2006 Explorer was rated at 14/19 MPG

Just outside of the city, the fuel gauge displayed ¼, so I topped off the 22.5 gallon tank. Jordan is not an oil rich country. Gasoline prices are closely regulated by the government, but locals still pay 0.95 Dinar per liter, or just over $5 a gallon. The beast swallows 40 liters to fill the tank, costing me 42 Dinar, just under $60. Ouch.

The view off the side of Jor 40

The view off the side of Jor 40

Even without the V8, the Explorer made easy work of climbing the hills outside of Amman and gracefully descended into the Dead Sea valley. The roads aren’t smooth, but for the region not bad. It’s all blacktop with large sections repaired without repaving the whole stretch. The big truck soaked up the irregularities as you would expect. What was surprising is how well the truck handled. It is not sports car, but previous experiences with vehicles of this size have not been this good. The drive is just over 25 miles. Coming down the mountains, the roadside stands sell cheap inflatable pool toys for the tourists headed to the Dead Sea.

In the mountains around Amman

In the mountains around Amman

My first stop is the Baptism site on the Jordan River. At the bottom of the last hill is a fork in the road, the site is to the right. The road immediately becomes a 2 lane through goat farms and in less than 2 miles I have arrived.

On the horizon, three of the under construction Churches

On the hill, three of the churches that are under construction

Until 1994 the entire zone was off limits, but the Israel-Jordan peace accord opened the area to visitors. You usually cannot drive directly to the site itself, but my timing coincides with a full bus. The tour guide elects to ride with me and we follow the bus to the actual river after getting special permission to drive a POV into the area. Take that punctuality!


The Israeli side

The Israeli side

The Jordan side

The Jordan side


The river is more of a creek, and at the actual point of entry into the water, you are less than 6 feet from Israeli tourists doing the same thing on the other side. With the opening of the area, every major denomination of orthodox Catholics have started construction of churches, there are 5 being built but only one is in operation, a Greek Orthodox St John the Baptist on The Jordan River.


After the hour long guided tour, I climb into the Explorer and continue to the Dead Sea, the ultimate destination of the Jordan River. Recently declared a free trade zone by the Jordanian monarchy, several high end resorts have sprouted up; more are underway and large homes gaze upon the valley. At the same time, cheesy tourist traps offered camel rides and questionably constructed roadside shed sold snacks, soft drinks and swim trunks.

Watch out, they spit

Watch out, they spit

At 1,385 feet below sea level, the shore of the Dead Sea is lowest point of dry land on the planet. The water is hyper saturated with salt, rendering humans quite buoyant. The mud is fabled for medicinal qualities. Indeed as I pull to the shore, swimmers are already in the water and many sit on the shore caking their bodies with the green, clay-like mud. I forgo the swim, but make it a point to wade in. When will I get this chance again?

Behind the Explorer, the Dead Sea. On the other shore, Israel

Behind the Explorer, the Dead Sea. On the other shore, Israel

The clay bottom squished under my feet and remnants stayed between my toes the rest of the day. I returned to the Explorer and continued south.

But that part of story will have to wait until tomorrow.





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Monday Mileage Champion: 2000 Ford Explorer Mon, 08 Oct 2012 13:00:12 +0000

Every classic Mercedes enthusiast and their antique mother will brag about the longevity of their ride. Then you have the Camrys. The Accords. The Volvo 240/740/940 triplets. Silverados. F-150s. Crown Vics. Town Cars. And of course the VW TDI models.

They all will endure along with Cavalier cockroaches and the ever ready Rangers. But there is only one true ‘Exploder’ in the car business.

This Ford Explorer represents the absolute best of Fords work in the 1990′s. Tough, strong, durable, simple, comfortable. Even luxurious if you went for an Eddie Bauer or a maxed out XLT package.

I love these SUV’s. Every one I finance can endure the worst of owners if need be. I try to avoid that. But I’ve probably gone through over a dozen Explorers and Mountaineers over the last few years and every one of them has been tougher than a brick shithouse.

This one is as well. 321,534 miles of American quality will be going through the block sometime this week. There will be no announcements of transmission, engine, or any other mechanical issue when it is given the thirty seconds of attention at the auction.


Will it sell for $300 $500? $1000? Maybe even $1500? I have no idea. But feel free to guess. It has a cloth interior, alloy wheels, step rails and an engine somewhere between 3.0 Liters and 5.0 Liters. Guess which one, and while you’re at it, feel free to lament the loss of 91,000 Explorers during the Cash for Clunkers debacle.

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Super Piston Slap: A Love Supreme, A Traveling DashMat Thu, 19 Jan 2012 13:22:12 +0000


TTAC Commentator supremebrougham writes:

Hey Sajeev…

I just got done reading the Ranger piece on TTAC, and I decided that I want to ask you something. A few months ago I lost my Father, and last week my Mom gave me his ’03 Ranger to use as a trade for a new Escape.

I kept the DashMat out of it. Dad got it for the 1995 Explorer we had way back when, so it’s of much better quality than anything you can get today. It’s light grey and looks like new. Unfortunately I don’t have any pics of the Explorer handy, but I’ll include one of the Ranger, and the new Escape I traded it in on.

I really don’t have a need for it anymore, so I thought I would see if it would be of use to you. After much thought, I figure if anyone would take care of it and appreciate it, it would be you.

Sajeev answers:

I am not a big fan of DashMats, and (after purchasing embroidered, super thick, NOS Ranger floormats for cheap on eBay) I learned that the older gray is a lighter hue than the 2006-2011 models. (See photo above for proof.) But I would still love to have my Ranger wear it during the winter months, when I’d park in the sun (sans windshield reflector) for the greenhouse effect, but would prefer to not make my dashboard to pay the price. Plus, I can’t resist a part with a good story behind it.

Tell me more!

Supremebrougham writes:

Dad’s truck story isn’t all that remarkable in and of itself. He was just one of those people that couldn’t stand not having a truck of some sort in the family.

Even though we lived in central Florida, he just had to have something with four wheel drive. In 1994 my parents bought one of the new Windstars for our family car. It was pretty nice, but the new 1995 Explorers were out, and he kept talking about them. So, in December of ’95, he traded the Windstar for a rather nice left over Explorer XLT, black over grey with the Premium Cloth interior. (those sport buckets were amazing! Maybe the best seats in any Ford branded vehicle!– SM)

He and my mom both loved that thing, so much that when it was time to replace dad’s 1990 Nissan 4×4, he bought a new 1998 Ranger XLT Supercab 4×4 in Autumn Orange. It was a looker and he really liked it, until he realized that he couldn’t haul much in it, it had the flairside bed. So after roughly six months or so it got traded for a slightly used 1998 F-150.

I finally convinced Dad that we didn’t need 4wd, and he agreed. Ironically that fall we moved to Northern Michigan, so it got traded for a new Silverado 2500 4×4.  A week later the Explorer was traded for a new 2000 Taurus SEL. After the Silverado came yet another F-150, a 2002 model. He liked that one, but when the gas started getting crazy in 2004 it got traded for a Subaru Outback.

Soon after that his truck lust kicked in and he sent me to pick out a truck. I brought home for him to see a 2003 Ranger XLT FX4. He liked it and mom’s Taurus got traded for it. He was happy-somewhat, as he decided he no longer liked the Subie. So off it went in exchange for a 2005 Mercury Sable LS, which my mom still has. It’s been quite a ride around my house, so to speak!

Dad and I didn’t have a whole lot in common, but we enjoyed cars, and spent a lot of time looking and talking about them together. We had fun together. I miss him.

Sajeev answers:

I received the DashMat and it fits like a glove! My Ranger will be shuttling me to and from the airport for the next month, so I know the DashMat will get a good workout in the long-term parking lot. :)

Supremebrougham answers:

I’m glad to hear that it made it safe!  Thanks for taking care of it for my Dad; I’m sure he’d be glad to know it went to a good home.

Sajeev answers:

I will try to get you some PR-sourced Ford swag for your generosity, obviously nothing Ranger related as that rig has finished its course. But maybe they got some soon-to-be-expired Escape crap lying around up in Dearborn…(cough)

One last remark: someone out there in Ranger Land would appreciate this DashMat more than yours truly, so I will give it to someone that appreciates it…if there’s a convincing reason given to the email addy below. If not, I will add it to my cache of Ranger parts as I modify and tune this wee-beasty in the future. Considering the truck and its owner…it shall be a long, long relationship.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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New or Used: Wear a Cup Edition Wed, 14 Sep 2011 18:17:54 +0000  


William writes:

My wife is currently in the market for a new car. Our current garage consists of her 2008 Ford Explorer XLT Ironman Edition V8 that gets a dismal 16 MPG in mixed driving, and my beloved 2010 G37S 6MT that I love in every way, and gets a decent 22 MPG in mixed driving when I’m not laying into the throttle. The Explorer is paid for, and while I mentioned selling it to buy whatever she wants, she’s having none of it, as we do tow with it every now and then and she has an attachment to Explorers. This is her second Ex, RIP 2002 Explorer @ 210k miles. Currently we’re looking at a few cars. She needs room, so a hatch is preferred.

Mini Cooper S Countryman
Lexus CT200h
Toyota Prius

Any suggestions? Price isn’t an issue and we plan to keep it for a while. Many Thanks. Bryant S

P.S. No, we don’t want a Panther :)

Sajeev Answers:

Correction: you don’t think you want a Panther.

That said, I would get something that adds a little more depth to your collection. The G’s got the sporty side covered. The Explorer is obviously a decent truck. The Countryman is a nice fashion statement of modest utility and long-term value, so go ahead and peep the FIAT 500 too. The CT and Prius are great ideas for an efficient runabout, but also consider cheaper and somewhat less efficient modes of transport: Mazda 3, Ford Focus SEL (or Titanium, if you don’t care about resale) or even the cute Honda Fit. It’s time to plant your butts in a whole lotta bucket seats to get your short list!

And seriously, also plant ‘em in a bench seat too. (childish giggling)

Steve answers:

Are you kiddin’ Sajeev? (Maybe. – SM) She seems to be one of those sensible people. What would she ever see in a Panther?

Truth be told I have no idea what she wants. If I knew what women wanted I would be running Lifetime television…into the ground.

So go drive an Audi A3. Drive the 1-Series. Drive a 3. Drive the Fiat. Drive a Fiesta. Drive Priuses/Prii and Lexus vehicles that are only identifiable by their serial numbers. I wouldn’t discount coupes, sedans, or even wagons from the list just yet either. Hatches tend to carry stiff price premiums compared to most other vehicles because in part, they attract a younger (at heart) clientele. What you need to do is find that one vehicle that truly offers the best bang for the buck.

Once you find it, don’t tell her. Surprise her. Really.

Let her first find something she loves. Then, just when she’s about to pull the trigger, give her a book called ‘The Tightwad Gazette’. It’s known as the modern-day Bible of frugality. Tell her to read it from page 1 to the index, with special attention given to how to make puppets out of socks, pantyhose, and old dog chew toys.

Let her take all this new information in, she’ll need a moment. Then explain to her kindly, but firmly, that a 2000 Plymouth Grand Voyager with roll-up windows would truly be her ideal ride. Minivans are still unpopular, thanks to (insert politician’s name here), and the name Plymouth has been out of circulation for over 10 years, wish I could say the same thing for (insert another politician’s name here)! The glow of red around her face will be one of pure adoration for a husband that realizes the value of the dollar.

Trust me. I know that glow from personal experience.

Enjoy it. Wear a cup.

Sajeev retorts:

Wait…exactly how is getting kneed in the crotch from a Plymouth minivan any better than an honest shot at Panther Love?

Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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New or Used: A Truck For My Love Fri, 26 Aug 2011 19:43:36 +0000  



Matt writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

I think it’s time to replace my wife’s 2005 Honda Odyssey EX-L. It’s got 48,000 on the clock and has developed a few problems over the years. Power side doors that get wonky on really cold days, a slow leak in the AC system, a leak somewhere around the windshield, and an intermittent airbag light most recently, to name a few. None of these things is that big a deal, but considering that my wife has held a grudge against me for convincing her to buy a minivan in the first place, they are just mounting evidence in her case to replace the Ody.

Don’t get me wrong, we both admire the van. It’s a good highway cruiser, gets OK gas mileage, and can haul massive amounts of stuff. But we have no passion for it, and we’ve decided that we’re secure enough to get a vehicle that we really WANT, not just tolerate. I’m normally the type to hang on to a car for at least 100K miles, but I’ve had to hear complaints for 6 years, and I’m ready to give in. Besides, I still use my 2001 Accord as my daily commuter to the train station and back, and since I just dropped $2,000 on all the 100K service items, I intend to hang on to it. Besides, I like it. But back to the van…

The replacement probably has to be new. Wifey hates used cars…something about having to deal with other people’s problems and dirt. She claims she’s open to the CPO route, but usually she finds something wrong. Seems like many of these off-lease cars were formerly smokers’ cars, and she’s insanely sensitive to any odors, even after intensive detailing. Fortunately, she’s not affected by the toxic gasses leeching out of the plastic on brand-new vehicles. But I digress.

90% of the time she’s using it for normal soccer mom duties, hauling our little ones aged 5 and 7. It has to be an SUV/CUV. My love has always wanted a truck and has been denied her whole life, so the idea of a jacked-up station wagon appeals to her very much. And please, 4WD/AWD only—apparently it’s necessary for all those 2-3 in snowfalls Chicago is famous for. Towing isn’t much of an issue, since there are no 10,000 pound boats to tow in my future, for now.

Three rows of seating would be nice, but we’re on the fence. Honestly, we only use the third row 5-10 times a year. But when we do, it is nice to have. Built-in navigation is a must (tired of the Tom Tom falling off the windshield unexpectedly and scaring the bejeezus out of me), and I’m kind of a gadget guy, so I’d like something with all the latest cool bells and whistles. Even though I know that it just ups the chance of something breaking.

Oh, and it has to be somewhat truck-like. My lovely bride isn’t fooled by a Forester, so there’s no need to even go there. If it doesn’t look like a truck, it won’t make the cut. I figure I’m not going to get out of this without spending $35-45K, and have promised her that she gets to make the decision, as long as she keeps it reasonable. No Audi Q7s or ‘Slades in her future, then.

The candidates:

  • 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee – Probably tops on the list right now. If we go this route, it’s got to be a Hemi. It’s my money, and if I want to be stupid with it and get gas mileage in the teens, then so be it. It would just be too hard to pass up the chance for a big-a** V8. It does OK on the gadget test, but without three rows, we get a bit nervous. We’d have to go for Limited or Overland trim.
  • 2011 Dodge Durango – I thought it would be a good candidate as a pseudo-Jeep Grand Cherokee with a third row, but my partner didn’t think it was truck-enough.
  • 2011 Ford Explorer – Scores high on the bells-and-whistles test, but my wife thinks it’s ugly on the outside. The usable third row would be a plus, though.
  • Honda Pilot – A strong contender until the latest crop of competitors came out. Besides, we’re sort of over the Honda thing. We’ve been driving them for 15 years, and frankly, their quality has gone down. I think my ’01 Accord is a better car than the Ody in many ways – except for the 2 failed transmissions, which I’ll save for a future Piston Slap question.
  • Acura MDX – Wife has always liked this, though it starts to get a little pricey as you option it up. Regarding quality, see “Honda Pilot above.”
  • Toyota Highlander – She thinks it looks “kind of luxurious” on the inside but I think Toyotas are bland. It is nice that you can get a third row.
  • Toyota 4-Runner – She likes it because it looks tough. She hasn’t driven it though, so I’m thinking that she might change her tune after some extended time with it.
  • GMC Yukon – This is truckish, all right. Saw it at the auto show and my wife loved it. Cons: third row is kind of a joke, and it scores low on the gadget department.

So, what do you think guys?

Steve Answers:

You need to figure out if this is the time to be a ‘keeper’. My brother’s family is going through one kid who is college bound and two others who will be of driving age in the next four years.

They no longer need the ‘BIG’ vehicle as a long-term keeper. You may be in the same boat as time goes on.

If we’re talking about the ‘thou shalt’ of making your wife happy, for now, I would look at the Highlander and Yukon. They are both well-designed vehicles and should keep her happy… until your needs change. Or until gas prices potentially zoom up to the ionosphere.

You know me by now. I love safety, and don’t believe for a minute that bulk and bloat equate to it. A front wheel drive midsize to full-sized cars would be a far better long-term value for you. However I’m not married to your wife.

If she’s stubborn then just make her happy. Or for a nominal fee, I can ask some old friends of mine from Jersey to help do some ‘traditional’ persuading.

Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Not that it’s a problem per se, but the crux of your quandary is your wife’s perception of trucky-ness. It’s all good, as I have a rather severe distain for the automotive buffalo butt. As such, I suspect a look at all large crossovers on any one of the automotive shopping websites will help narrow down the choices. An Acura MDX should hit all the size/tech requirements, except Acura doesn’t make anything even remotely truck like. I will second the Toyota 4Runner, even if its not the most efficient package on the market. That said, go all out and grab a Ford Expedition: with SYNC+Navigation and an unbelievably well executed third row (folded or in use) you may never care about the “shamefuel” mileage. (snort)

Or just screw it and get a Lincoln Town Car with winter tires. Solid axle, BOF construction and stupid-durable suspension makes it more of a truck than most of these limp wristed pansies, that’s for sure.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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U-Haul Won’t Rent Trailers To Explorers, Idiot Lawyers (Not Unibody Construction) To Blame Thu, 26 May 2011 18:18:11 +0000

Should you be afraid of towing in a new Ford Explorer? Though the newly-unibody Explorer is rated for up to 5,000 pounds, Jack Baruth noted in his review that

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.

And though you might well share Jack’s nervousness about towing in a new Explorer, the law of the land says it’s safe pulling up to 5,000 pounds. Even so, Consumer Reports found out the hard way that not everyone believes in the Explorer as a safe, effective towing machine. Namely the equipment rental company U-Haul appears to have some kind of problem with the Explorer, as  CR’s Eric Evarts explains

I called U-Haul to see about renting their largest, 6×12-foot open trailer to drag the mulch home. “Come on down! $29.95 for the day,” the friendly attendant said.

Eager to finish that day and save $18 by delivering the mulch myself, I trundled off to the local U-Haul lot. As the workers started to fill out the paperwork inside, their faces went ashen the second I said, “Explorer.”

“Sorry, we won’t let any equipment out behind an Explorer,” they said, and began putting away their pencils.


Huh? is right. One might well worry about the long-term effects on ones “sideways transmission’s” health, but that should hardly concern U-Haul. Do they care if you need a rebuild at 50k miles? Not so much. Nor are they concerned that unibody construction makes for a less capable or safe hauler. In fact, U-Haul’s concern seems to date back to the previous body-on-frame Explorer, to which the new CUV is in no way related.

“Corporate policy, since the Firestone lawsuits,” they said. “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you.” (Ford was sued in a class-action lawsuit in 1998 over defective Firestone tires on early Ford Explorers, which led to several deadly rollover accidents. The lawsuit was eventually settled. But this new Explorer has zero in common with those early SUVs except the nameplate.)

When we called U-Haul corporate later to check on the policy, Joanne Fried, director of media and corporate relations confirmed the policy. “Every time we go to hire an attorney to defend a lawsuit, as soon as we say ‘Ford Explorer,’ they charge us more money.” She said the policy also applies to Jeep Wranglers, unless they have a hard-top installed.

As we waited on hold for a few minutes, the corporate recording recited: “If you need to tow, U-Haul is the only name you need to know, and the only place you need to go.” Apparently not if you drive a Ford Explorer. In that case, you need to go elsewhere.

Talk about a perfect illustration of the state of legal liability in this, our most litigious society. Because the new Explorer is called an Explorer, and because layers charge U-Haul more for doing business with any Ford Explorer owner, U-Haul and its obviously scrupulous and detail-oriented lawyers have completely failed to notice that the new Explorer has literally nothing to do with the old one. Which would be akin to arguing that the CR-Z shouldn’t be called a hybrid because it’s the “spiritual successor” to the CRX. Or buying a new Buick Regal or Scion xB because you liked the previous one. Earth to U-Haul: the new Explorer has no more to do with the Firestone recall than the Ford Edge or Flex. Time to tell those lawyers they have their heads up their… pocketbooks.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Would You Recommend A Ford Explorer? Thu, 12 May 2011 23:43:09 +0000

Despite being on something of a roll product-wise, Ford has just experienced its second run-in with Consumer Reports, which failed to give Ford’s new Explorer a coveted “recommended” rating. Why? CR explains its decision in Automotive News [sub] thusly

“The engine is a little noisy, handling is secure but lacks agility, and the driving position is flawed,” the magazine says.

“The optional ‘MyFord Touch’ control interface is over-complicated and distracting,” the magazine says, echoing ongoing complaints about Ford’s family of in-vehicle communications systems.

But there’s more.

“The six-speed automatic is not the smoothest out there and wants to hold on to higher gears too long. It was sometimes slow to downshift and overly aggressive engine braking slowed the Explorer going down hills unless we gave the gas pedal a prod.

“An optional Terrain Management system for the all-wheel-drive system lets you dial in various terrain types such as snow and sand, and it alters throttle, brake and torque split between front and rear wheels accordingly.”

Finally, the latest Explorer is too new to be recommended, the magazine says.

But here’s the kicker: as our “Crossover Report” proves, the Explorer killed the competition last month, outselling every other midsized and large CUV on the market. So, is CR right to rate products like Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Ford Flex, Acura MDX, Volkswagen Touareg, Hyundai Veracruz, Subaru Tribeca, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9 higher than Explorer? Or is this yet another example of CR’s well-disguised but often-noted bias against American cars? Is CR right about the Explorer, or is the market?

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Review: 2011 Ford Explorer Take Two Mon, 21 Feb 2011 20:03:40 +0000

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.

Explorer-third-row-legroom Explorer-front Explorer-side Explorer-fake-stitching Explorer-cargo-area Explorer-second-row-legroom Explorer-engine MyFord Touch Explorer-instrument-panel Explorer-third-row Explorer IP full view Explorer-rear-quarter Explorer-front-seats Explorer-instruments Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Exploring old ideas in new ways? Explorer-forward-visibility Explorer-second-row

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Review: 2011 Ford Explorer XLT AWD Tue, 08 Feb 2011 15:33:59 +0000

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”.

A face intended for mothers to love. IMG_8547 IMG_8554 IMG_8555 IMG_8556 IMG_8560 Ford's Terrain Management System on the all new Explorer SUV Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 88
Ford Ordered To Pay $131m In Explorer Rollover Trial Fri, 03 Sep 2010 15:43:49 +0000
Ford was ordered by a Mississippi jury to pay $131m to the family of a New York Mets prospect who died in a rollover crash in 2001. The ruling came despite Ford’s insistence that Brian Cole had been driving at 80 MPH and was not wearing a seatbelt when his Explorer went off the road. Ford maintains that the judge in the case barred key evidence that would have absolved it of responsibility, and a spokesperson tells Reuters that

This was a tragic accident and our sympathy goes out to the Cole family for their loss, but it was unfair of them to blame Ford

Ford settled with Cole’s family immediately following the $131m award, and the family’s lawyer explained that the damages in this case were higher than other rollover cases because Cole was a professional baseball player.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Does The Outgoing Explorer Earn Its “Exploder” Nickname? Mon, 09 Aug 2010 21:05:44 +0000

This week’s “Haggler” column in the Sunday New York Times was ripped from the pages of TTAC’s beloved Piston Slap series, with a Wendy Marek writing in to complain that

In July 2008, I made a huge mistake: I bought a Ford Explorer. It was a 2006 model with 40,000 miles, and it cost $17,000. At first I thought I got a great deal, but after a few weeks of driving, the radiator started leaking. Then the replacement radiator started leaking. Then the radiator that replaced the replacement started leaking. To date, six new radiators have been installed in this vehicle. Six.

After some research, The Haggler found that both and Consumer Reports showed a record of radiator problems in 2006 Explorers. Furthermore, Ford issued a TSB on 2006 Explorer radiators in 2009, which the automaker insists covers its liability. Since the Explorer in question is a used car, Ms Marek’s only real recourse would have been to file a breach of warranty claim, but the statue of limitations had already run out. Since so few protections exist for used-car buyers, one has to assume that the moral of the story is that buying used Explorers is a risky business… but is that the truth? Or is the outgoing Explorer a good value that’s getting a bum rap?

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Ford Exploring Counterintuitive Engine Pricing Mon, 26 Jul 2010 15:54:55 +0000

Last week, the big news coming out of Ford was that the new Lincoln MKZ would be available with a hybrid drivetrain as a no-cost option. With Mercury on its way out, and Lincoln struggling to carve out a niche in the luxury space, that move made a certain amount of sense at the time. What we didn’t know until today is that the “free” hybrid option on the MKZ was only Ford’s opening salvo on the status quo of automotive drivetrain option pricing. Today, with the 2011 Explorer dominating the news cycle, Ford has announced its latest head-scratcher: making the four-cylinder “Ecoboost” engine option more expensive than the more powerful standard V6. Yes, really.

The 2011 Explorer’s base engine is a 290 HP, 255 lb-ft, 3.5 liter Duratec V6, essentially an un-turbocharged version of the Ecoboost V6 found in the Taurus SHO. Ford hasn’t released EPA numbers for either version of the Explorer, but says that the base model should get better fuel economy than the Honda Pilot, which gets 17/23 in 2WD trim, and 16/22 in 4wd trim. Ford hasn’t released pricing for the new Explorer, but it’s telling Automotive News [sub] that the optional engine, a 2.0 liter Ecoboost-branded turbocharged four-cylinder will be more expensive.

And what do you get for more money? To put it simply: less. Less power, for one thing. The Ecoboost engine offers 237 hp (down 53 hp to the V6), and 250 lb-ft, a mere 5 lb-ft reduction. The Ecoboost also offers less need to rev, with peak torque arriving as low as 1,700 RPM. But the most important area in which the Ecoboost engine delivers less, is in fuel consumption. According to Ford, the Ecoboost two-liter Explorer will return similar fuel economy to a V6 Toyota Camry, which means fuel economy should improve to around 19/26 [Ford PDF on both engines here]. Those numbers are, in a nutshell, why Ford has decided to take the barely-precedented step of charging more for an optional four-cylinder than the standard V6.

But how much more will Ford charge for the extra several miles per gallon? There’s no official word yet, but Ford charges a $3,000 to $6,000 premium for Ecoboost-equipped versions of its Flex CUV [UPDATE: Ford has released pricing for non-Ecoboost Explorer here]. On the other hand, those vehicles offer more horsepower from their turbocharged V6 than their corresponding base models, so that premium makes some sense. Also, in yet another break from past engine-option practice, Ford will not require AWD on Ecoboost-equipped Explorers. These factors should conspire to keep the Ecoboost premium lower for the Explorer than the Flex, although there could be a non-financial cost to choosing the Ecoboost four on a new Explorer: towing. Ford says the standard Explorer will tow 5,500 lbs “when properly equipped.” The Ecoboost version has not yet been tow-rated, and though it’s down only 5 lb-ft of torque, it could well receive a lower rating than the standard Explorer.

All of which leads to a pretty crucial question: who buys a vehicle like the Explorer if they’re willing to pay more and potentially give up capability for improved fuel economy? Ford refuses to take the question head-on, preferring to make the Ecoboost option about rehabilitating the Explorer nameplate after its front-and-center role in the excesses of the SUV era. Ford’s Chief Engineer Jim Holland tells AN [sub]:

We really want to make a statement that the old baggage on fuel economy with the Explorer is gone. To get great fuel economy it takes technology, and it’s our view that people will pay for that… The impact of rising gas prices has really stuck with people. People now buy more expensive light bulbs to be more efficient. We’re moving to a point where people make the choice to be more responsible

Lightbulbs are one thing, cars are another. Sure, we can see that America is downsizing, but consumers still have yet to be asked to pay more for a non-hybrid but more fuel-efficient drivetrain, when more power is available in the same vehicle for cheaper. If Ford can get consumers to understand and accept the notion that downsized and turbocharged engines are worth a modest premium, they’ll steal yet another march on their competitors. If not, and Americans ignore the Ecoboost Explorer in favor of its cheaper, more-powerful cousin, Ford may well retreat from the Ecoboost premium altogether, and offer the V6 and Turbo-Four at the same price.

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2011 Explorer: Ford Dealing With SUV Withdrawal? Tue, 29 Jun 2010 15:34:39 +0000

It’s been written at least a few times here at TTAC that crossovers are the methadone of SUV addiction, and Ford is proving the point, as it prepares to launch its 2011 Explorer. Once one of the most popular SUVs in America, the Explorer is going to a unibody chassis, and the reactions to teaser images on Facebook show that America is still struggling with its SUV addiction. Facebook reactions [in gallery below] show a mixed reaction to the Explorer’s new crossover-inspired look, including unfavorable comparisons to such “cute utes” as the Honda CR-V. Ford is reacting with a video [above] which describes the Explorer as a “21st Century SUV” that offers “do anything, go anywhere” capability. Which is funny, considering that the original Explorer was never exceptional at either off-road or on-road capability. But hey, who ever said that addiction was a logical choice?
explorer explorer2 explorer3 explorer4 Picture 176 Picture 177 Picture 178

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Ford: 4-Cylinder Explorer, V6 F-150 Launching “By The End Of The Year” Mon, 12 Apr 2010 22:16:17 +0000

Ford’s relationship with hybrid technology has been an on-again-off-again affair, since Bill Ford first pledged to build 250k hybrids by 2010. And it’s probably a good thing the Blue Oval backed away from that promise, as the firm sold only 33,502 hybrids last year. Meanwhile, Ford still has yet to claim profitability on any of its hybrids (last disclaiming such an achievement (sort of) in 2008). Perhaps because Ford has paid dearly to tag along in the import-dominated hybrid segments, it’s getting a bit jaded about the power of high-cost, high-tech green halo cars to deliver real results. Or, perhaps Ford’s VP of powertrain engineering Barb Samardzich is simply channeling old Henry Ford, when she says:

We are focused on sustainable technology solutions that can be used not for hundreds or thousands of cars, but for millions of cars, because that’s how Ford will truly make a difference

We’ve heard this before, but today’s news puts the four-cylinder future into perfect context in just five words: Four. Cylinder. Explorer. This. Year.

Ford’s Ecoboost strategy (which, in addition to downized engines, direct injection and turbocharging, apparently includes weight-loss measures) is rolling onwards, with Ford announcing three new applications for 2010. The first, a 1.6 liter four cylinder, will only be available this year on the European C-Max MPV (but cross your fingers for an eventual Fiesta appearance). The other two are aimed straight at the heart of Ford’s US market share: the Taurus SHO’s 3.5 liter twin-turbo V6 is headed for rear-drive versions of the F-150, and the forthcoming Explorer will be powered by a 2.0 Ecoboost four-pot engine.

There’s even some poetic justice in the rehabilitation of the former poster child for America’s era of SUV excess. Billy Ford’s only-220k-units-off prediction of hybrid dominance was formulated in the wake of his backdown from a previous goal of improving SUV efficiency 25 percent by 2005. Ten years after that broken promise was made, and with much water under the bridge, Ford might just be building the Explorer William Clay Jr had in mind back then.

And though the company’s new emphasis on incremental change across large volumes is certainly in the best Ford traditions, there’s room to question how committed the firm really is to its new strategy. Why, for example, will stop-start systems, a relatively cheap mass-market efficiency improver, only reach 20 percent of Ford nameplates by 2014? Why is Ford insisting on rebodying a Magna-supplied EV as a green-halo Focus?

Although many questions about Ford’s efficiency/environmental strategy remain open, EcoBoost has clearly succeeded on the marketing front. By bundling a suite of strategies and technologies, most of which were not invented in Dearborn, and selling them hard, Ford is building brand equity in a name that it will be able to capitalize in the short- to medium-term. Instead of leapfrogging Toyota’s hybrids technologically, as Chevy’s Volt seeks to do, Ford is bringing as many of its cars as close as possible to hybrid level performance, with less cost and (potentially) less risk. Given Ford’s history, that’s not a bad approach at all.

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