Debuting in mid-2010, the 2011 Explorer signalled a new direction for Ford’s most popular SUV. From here on in, fuel economy would trump performance.
Power was delivered either by a Triton V-6 that displaced 3.5 litres and developed 290 horsepower or a 2.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder that came later in the model year. There was one transmission choice: a six-speed automatic. You could choose from FWD or AWD versions and the latter had four different settings – normal, mud, snow, sand – plus a hill descent control feature that worked off the ABS system. All accessed via a centre-console mounted rotary knob.
The Explorer was aimed more at soccer moms than off-road rock-hoppers, and was still the quintessential suburban grocery-getter. With seating for seven, it came with all the features you’d expect to find in a mid-size SUV.
For example, one-touch-down driver’s power window, tilt/telescoping steering, four 12-volt power points, Ford’s MyKey owner-programmable performance setting, and a slew of safety features. Perhaps the most intriguing of these was a new Curve Control system that reduces vehicle speed if you find yourself entering a turn too fast. At the time, Ford explained that 50,000 people a year were being injured because of loss of control while negotiating turns, and this system scrubs off speed via the brakes.
There were three trim levels: base, XLT and Limited. As you climbed up the model range, leather interior, back-up camera, remote start, power-adjustable pedals, power rear tailgate, universal garage door opener and Ford’s glitzy ambient lighting feature became available. One slick little goody with the top-of-the-line Limited model is a power-operated third-row seat that pops up or disappears into the floor with the press of a button.
This edition of the Explorer was built in Chicago, and was the most electronically sophisticated version Ford put forward. It was loaded with in-car technology, with no less than 28 different outside contractors supplying expertise. Microsoft, Sharp, Bluetooth, Gracenote and Sony were just a few “partners” that helped put together the company’s MyFord and Sync technology systems.
Two safety recalls to report from Transport Canada. One is an “inconsequential” labelling issue, while the other concerns possibly faulty rear-seat reclining mechanisms that may have “imperfect” components affecting the seat’s strength and safety. Easily repaired by dealers.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has 14 technical service bulletins for the 2011 Explorer. These range from extended warranty issues, problems with the engine cooling fan, a problem with “sluggish” acceleration, locking/unlocking issues with the key fob, and glitchy airbag software.
NHTSA also has an impressive 189 complaints on file. A sampling: “The Sync screen went black and the radio and temperature controls stopped working … the Sync system has been worked on by the dealership 13 times,” “brakes makes a grunting/grinding sound shortly after being stationary” and “the power steering on our 2011 Ford Explorer has failed while we were driving, causing unsafe conditions.” Problems with the power steering and the Sync system are the most-often-heard complaints here.
Not much love from Consumer Reports for the ’11 Explorer. Overall, it gets a “much worse than average” used-car prediction rating, and problem areas include the cooling system, climate control, body hardware and the audio system. Comments from owners: “Sync could be better, but recent updates help a lot,” “I have had this Explorer in the shop more already than my other two vehicles,” “should have shopped more” and “doesn’t absorb sharp bumps well.”
Market research firm J.D. Power likes it a little better, giving the 2011 Explorer a “better than most” grade for overall performance and design and average marks for predicted reliability. More comments from owners: “Sync/MyTouch failing and can be frustrating at times,” “cargo space is less than first appearance would suggest” and “drives like a car due to the chassis.”
From a base price of about $30,000 in 2011, the Explorer has dropped in value by $8,000-$10,000, depending upon the model and equipment level. All-wheel-drive versions fetch about $3,000 more than the front-drive models, and the Limited is valued in the high-$20,000 to mid-$30,000 neighbourhood, with all the bells and whistles. Interestingly, the four-cylinder EcoBoost versions are valued higher than the V-6.
2011 Ford Explorer
Original Base Price: $29,999; Black Book: $23,350-$35,125; Red Book: $18,475-$28,800
Engine: 3.5 litre V-6 and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 290 hp/255 lb-ft for V-6; 237 hp/250 lb-ft for four
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel and all-wheel
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/8.0 highway (V-6); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner, Chevrolet Traverse. GMC Terrain, Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Lexus RX350, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Borrego, Hyundai Santa Fe