It's been a long journey for the Ford Explorer. Introduced in 1990, the Explorer muscled the family minivan out of many suburban driveways. It also reigned as Consumer Reports' top-rated SUV for several years in the late 1990s. At one point, Ford was selling over 400,000 Explorers a year.
That was until car-based SUVs started showing up on the scene. They drove better than the body-on-frame Explorer and typically got better fuel economy. Then the Explorer reputation took a tumble amid massive recalls and tragic accident reports involving Firestone tires and rollovers. The Explorer went from topping sales charts to being the top traded-in-for-destruction Cash for Clunkers vehicle. Over the past decade, sales of new Explorers dwindled. Ford stuck by the Explorer nameplate though, applying it to a 2011 top-to-bottom redesign. The Explorer now shares its car-based platform with the Ford Taurus and the impressive three-row Ford Flex. Unlike the Flex, the shorter and less spacious Explorer sticks to traditional (and less controversial) SUV styling cues. We have been anxious to see how the Explorer redux has adapted to the modern market. Once available, we bought one for testing.
Our $39,275 Explorer XLT has the rapid-spec 202A package. That gets stuff like heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, Sync, and a backup camera. It also brings the high-tech--and highly frustrating --MyFord Touch dashboard interface that we criticized on the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. Other options included a dual-panel moon roof, towing package, and blind spot monitoring.
While traditionalists may decry that the Explorer is now a "big station wagon" rather than a "true" SUV, that argument runs out of steam fast. The Explorer can still tow a decent 5,000 lbs, almost the same as the previous Explorer V6. (There's no longer an optional V8.) The old Explorer was no off-road ace, so not much lost there, either.
There are definite gains brought from the 2011 Explorer's transformation. Take a look at our First Drive video to find out what they were, and stay tuned for a complete test in the weeks ahead.