Quick Drive: 2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4X4

By Winding Road Staff

June 20, 2011

I was fortunate enough to test the all-new Explorer at the December launch in sunny San Diego, where it performed well in each test we put it through. I knew, however, that the real test would be back on home soil, here in Detroit, where the roads are as craggy as anything this side of Kabul. I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint.

The new unibody platform underpinning the Explorer is a huge leap in ride comfort over the old body-on-frame setup. Its strongest quality was the improvement in primary ride. The new Explorer didn’t feel quite so prone to vertical motions as the older car. The same is true of lateral movement; there was less of the I’m-driving-a-really-tall-vehicle feeling than we had really expected. I think the secondary ride could have been a bit better though, as the Ford still felt a bit too rough over larger road imperfections. There was also more suspension noise than I remembered hearing in California.

Overall though, I was every bit as impressed with the Explorer in Detroit as I was when I first drove it in San Diego.

—Brandon Turkus, Fleet Manager

The most recent step in the evolution of the Ford Explorer has been a good one, in my opinion. Sure, the rough-around-the-edges, truck-based Explorer of old had its charm, but it was failing to keep up with the times, meaning the demands and concerns of the contemporary consumer. This one fixes a lot of that.

The fact that it has fuel economy figures on par with many vehicles of a smaller size is pretty impressive, especially while putting out 283 horsepower. It’s still capacious enough to haul all the people and things that drivers want to take with them. Also, it is fitted with the newest technology. Granted, many still feel that Ford’s user interface systems are still a little finicky, but others are very happy with it.

But the biggest accomplishment here is, like Brandon mentioned, in the realm of comfort. The new Explorer has a much more refined ride quality, with big improvements in stability. Also, the interior materials and design have come a long way, making this vehicle a pleasant place to spend time.

—John Betz Snyder, Production Editor

First off, let me just offer up the anecdotal piece of evidence that I’ve been seeing this new Explorer all over the place in SE Michigan over the last few months. Sure, the larger Detroit area is kind of a sweet spot for Ford employees and subsequent employee discounts, but even taking that regional bias into consideration I think the numbers on the street look really good.

For good reason, too. Sure, as John and Brandon point out the Explorer has a nice ride and powertrain, but I really think that a load of these are moving off dealer lots because it just looks better than comparably sized SUVs and crossovers. I think the Explorer is a shapely design in the style of the equally good-looking Focus and the upcoming Kuga.

The interior is pretty posh, too. Focus and Fiesta share some interior themes and shapes, but, as a more expensive vehicle with higher margins, Explorer interior designers were able to opt into better quality materials and nicer finishes. That said, I found the seats to ride a little bit stiffer and higher than I’d expected based, for instance, the cozy Ford Flex.

—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief


Decent body controls give Explorer a very planted feel
Improved fuel economy in a roomy vehicle
Upscale, modern, slimming design work


Secondary ride could have been smoother, especially over the real rough patches
Not quite the hardcore off-roader it used to be
Low glasshouse compromises visibility somewhat