No single vehicle did more to fuel the American SUV craze than the 1990 Ford Explorer. Its combination of truck-frame sturdiness and family-friendly mid-size cabin transformed SUVs from special use to mainstream multipurpose vehicles. But, in recent years, as unstable gas prices lead consumers towards more efficient crossovers, Explorer’s fortunes waned.

Still, as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Enter the 2011 Ford Explorer, a re-invention of the American classic that strives to maintain Explorer toughness with modern design.

No longer a body-on-frame, the Explorer’s new unibody chassis with independent rear suspension is sourced from the Ford Taurus sedan and Flex crossover. But don’t call Explorer a crossover. Ford says it’s a true, all terrain capable SUV with power and towing to match.

It certainly looks like an Explorer. While the grille is more car-like, and overall lines more defined, there is familiarity, especially at the side windows and hind quarters.

Modern design really comes through under the hood, however. Taurus’ 3.5-liter V6 replaces the V8. Horsepower is almost the same at 290, but with 20 percent higher fuel economy.

Optional is Ford’s first Ecoboost turbocharged four-cylinder. It’s good for 237 horses, and 30 percent better economy than last year’s standard V6.

A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission. But, in standard two-wheel drive trim, it’s now the front wheels that do the work rather than the rears.

But, don’t say optional all-wheel drive either. Ford says Explorer is still a true 4X4, with a Land Rover style four-wheel drive “Terrain Management System.”  It has settings for normal, mud, sand, and snow. 

Enhancing on-road driveability is Ford’s new Curve Control System.  Sort of a stability control on steroids, Curve Control reduces engine torque and applies automatic braking when it senses the vehicle taking a curve too fast.

The cabin still has three rows of seating for seven, but it’s roomier, more sophisticated, with far better materials.

Interior tech includes Ford SYNC; MyTouch driver connect technology; and MyKey, a teen safety feature that lets parents limit top speed.

And an industry-first, rear inflatable seat belts help take family safety to a new level.

The all-new Ford Explorer arrives in dealer showrooms in early 2011 with prices starting at around $30,000.


"The Vue Two-Mode Hybrid proves that power and efficiency can coexist, and in a modern crossover you can have them both without skimping on any ability." – Ben Davis


  • 3.5-liter V6:
  • 290-horsepower:
  • Starting at around $30,000: