The reviews are all over the Web today, as Ford made a big media push with the 2011 Explorer to get it in the hands of the bigger car-test websites. I haven’t driven it, but I have rarely seen such uniformly positive coverage.
It sounds like they recently took a bunch of drivers to their San Diego compound and gave them some Explorers to play with, testing the car’s off-road capabilities. We’ll give you a summary report after the break.
In trying to recreate a damaged brand, Ford did some very smart things. Their market research told them to keep the name, which still had positive recognition after the rollover-and-tire problems in 2000. Riding high in that year, with sales of 445,000, Ford sold only 52,000 Explorers last year.
The company went out to its customer base and found that fuel economy was much more important than heavy towing power. Same thing with off-roading: People wanted the capability, but not the all-out clout of a Toyota 4Runner or a Jeep. (Only 17 percent of current owners go off-road.) Ford gave them a unibody, car-like vehicle that, with Terrain Management four-wheel-drive control, is very competent on and off the highway.
Customers wanted quiet, adaptability, sufficient but not excessive power, and a well-fitted-out cabin. They griped about the earlier Explorer’s ride, handling, and vibration. The new car, now a crossover, corrects these things and is built on the Flex platform.
The two complaints I found were that the Sync system typically malfunctioned and that the complicated MyFord Touch screen, controlling a bunch of important functions, was a disaster. I say, yet again, we do not need this stuff in a car!
A big question is whether the new car can recover its role as a dominant profit center for Ford. The old Explorer was, frankly, not much of a car, and yet people bought it like hotcakes because, despite its awful handling, it had comfort, room, and some off-road pretensions.
Car and Driver compared the 2011 Explorer to the Honda Pilot, which makes little sense as the Pilot is smaller, less capable, and nearly as expensive. From what I read, the 2011 Explorer will be a good bet to recapture Ford’s lost position in the SUV-CUV marketplace.
What cars do you see as competing with Ford’s Explorer in the current market?