The 2011 Ford Explorer is all new, switching to a lighter, car-based unit-body platform for an improved ride and better fuel economy. While trimmer than its predecessors, the reimagined Explorer can still carry up to seven passengers in three rows, tote up to 80.7 cu ft. of cargo with the rear seats folded, and tow up to 5,000 pounds with the standard 3.5-liter V6. The 2011 Explorer is the first of its kind available with the MyFord Touch electronic infotainment system that replaces traditional knobs and buttons with steering-wheel controls and a large touchscreen. Also new is a Land Rover-inspired Terrain Management System for 4-wheel-drive versions, plus new technology such as distance-setting cruise control, parallel-parking assist and blind spot monitoring.
The Ford Explorer remains one of the best-selling 7-passenger crossover SUVs, offering a popular mix of practicality and style.
What We Like
Sync voice-activated infotainment controls; improved fuel economy; slick-shifting automatic transmission; Terrain Management Control on 4-wheel-drive models; perky V6 performance
What We Don't
Glitchy MyFord Touch controls for audio and climate control; high step-in height; body roll in turns; cramped second-row seat
Fuel Economy & Engine Specs
A 3.5-liter V6 is the base engine in all Explorer trims. With four valves per cylinder and dual independent variable valve timing, the 3.5 V6 generates 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque on a diet of regular unleaded fuel. It's teamed solely with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. Equipped with front-wheel drive, the 3.5-liter V6 has an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, while 4-wheel-drive versions are rated at 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy. Explorers with the 3.5-liter V6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Standard Features & Options
The 2011 Ford Explorer is available in base, XLT and Limited trims.
Base trim standard equipment includes the 3.5-liter V6, automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, hill-start assist, front and rear air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt/telescope steering wheel with remote audio controls, remote keyless entry, a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 decoder, 17-inch steel wheels, stability and traction control, 3-row seating for seven passengers, cloth upholstery, a power driver's seat, split fold-down second- and third-row bench seats, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, dual front- and side-impact airbags, overhead airbags and power locks, windows and mirrors.
XLT models have a leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, backup parking sensors, 18-in alloys, a sequential sport shifter, Sirius satellite radio, automatic headlamps, a security system, an outside temperature display, fog lamps, heated door mirrors and turn-signal mirrors. XLT options not available on the base model include a power lift gate, automatic A/C, rear camera, the MyFord Touch infotainment system with 8-in center touch screen, navigation, 8-speaker premium audio, a dual-panel power moonroof, leather seats, heated front seats, a power passenger's seat, inflatable rear seat belts, a blind spot alert system and 20-in alloy wheels.
Choosing Limited trim adds standards such as leather upholstery, a power passenger's seat, heated front seats, a memory driver's seat, automatic A/C, a garage-door opener, rear cargo net, adjustable pedals, 20-in alloy wheels, MyFord Touch touchscreen controls for audio and climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Sync voice-activated infotainment, electronic gauges, remote start, a 12-speaker Sony premium audio system and a rear camera. Available options include: power lift gate, distance cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, middle-row captain's chairs, active park assist, a power folding third-row seat and a security system.
Ford's reimagined 2011 Explorer scored a hit with consumers looking for a large 3-row crossover with car-like ride and handling. Not every family's budget can afford a new one, so there's a constant demand for versatile people-haulers such as the Explorer, provided they are clean and have the right equipment. All-wheel drive is a popular option in cold-weather states, so expect to pay more for Explorers that are so-equipped.
To get a good idea of the 2011 Explorer's price range, investigate the Kelley Blue Book used-car values at KBB.com. You can also search the AutoTrader Classifieds to see what models are for sale in your area.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued two recalls for the 2011 Explorer. The first involves second-row manual seat recliners that may not conform to safety standards. The second recall concerns replacement steering gears that may lock, preventing the driver from turning the steering wheel.
Safety Ratings & Warranties
NHTSA did not rate the 2011 Explorer for crash-test performance.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2011 Explorer Good ratings for front, side and rear impacts, as well as roof crush.
Ford Motor Company sold the 2011 Explorer with a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/unlimited distance corrosion perforation warranty and 5 years/60,000 miles of roadside-assistance coverage.
Ford certified pre-owned vehicles can't be more than five years old or show more than 80,000 miles. Every certified pre-owned Explorer undergoes a 172-point inspection. Those that pass receive a 12-month/12,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and powertrain coverage extending seven years from when the vehicle was first sold or reaches 100,000 miles, whichever occurs first. Also included is a vehicle history report and roadside assistance.
Other Cars to Consider
2011 Chevrolet Traverse ? Like the Explorer, Chevy's Traverse also can seat seven. Its second-row seat slides fore and aft to allow owners to tailor passenger and cargo space, but the seat is low and open seat tracks can trap debris. The Traverse offers a supple ride and precise steering and the 281-hp 3.6-liter V6 provides decent performance -- but ill-fitting, unattractive hard plastic in the interior make the Traverse look cheap.
2011 Toyota Highlander ? Smaller and lighter than the Explorer, Toyota's largest crossover offers a fuel-saving 187-hp 2.7-liter 4-cylinder base model and a gas-electric hybrid version. Most buyers will opt for the peppy 3.5-liter V6 packing 270 hp. All models now have three rows of seats, but the third row is very cramped and suitable only for children.
Other than its name and 7-passenger capacity, the 2011 Explorer has little in common with its truck-based predecessors that were top sellers in the SUV segment. In many ways, the new Explorer crossover is a minivan replacement, offering plenty of people- and cargo-hauling functionality in a vehicle that drives and rides very much like a car.
We advise going with a reasonably well-equipped XLT that comes with the conventional audio and climate controls. 2011 was the first year for the buggy MyFord Touch infotainment system, so if you opt for a Limited or other Explorer optioned with the system, make sure that it's had all of the software updates that can help minimize the chances for screen freezes, slow reaction times and other glitches. Stick with lower-mileage examples when possible. Going the Ford certified pre-owned route is always a wise choice.