The trucks are still big. The engines, puny. -

The trucks are still big. The engines, puny.

Ford’s newest Explorer SUV offers a glimpse of the company’s future


Chris Hondros/Getty Images

When Ford unveiled the 2011 Explorer last week, it was hard to say what was the bigger surprise—that the company hauled several tons of dirt, rocks and trees into the heart of New York City for the big reveal, or that anybody even cared. The rugged truck that kicked off the SUV craze in the 1990s has fallen on hard times amid the recession and steep pump prices. Over the last decade, sales have evaporated, tumbling a whopping 88 per cent, from 450,000 to just 52,000 last year. Yet, when the redesigned and retooled Explorer rolled down a makeshift hill outside Macy’s department store, it triggered gushing praise from analysts, investors and prospective buyers. And it was the clearest sign yet the turnaround at Ford has kicked into high gear.

In many ways, the new Explorer is an SUV in name only. It still resembles a sport utility vehicle—it’s roughly the same size as the previous Explorer, the V6 version offers more horsepower than the previous model and it can still tow a 5,000-lb. load. But everything about the way the 2011 Explorer is constructed points to it being a crossover. The vehicle’s unibody design, in which the body and frame are welded together as a single unit, shares more in common with the Ford Taurus car than with the company’s line of body-on-frame pickups. That has helped make the Explorer lighter and more fuel-efficient.

The real break with the Explorer’s gas-guzzling past is the introduction of an optional smaller EcoBoost engine. The company claims the turbocharged, direct-injection four cylinder engine will offer all the power of the larger V6 version, yet use 30 per cent less fuel than the outgoing 2010 Explorer. Ford even claims the fuel savings put the four cylinder Explorer in line with the Toyota Camry V6 sedan. “This is really the game changer for us,” says Rick Gemin, production manager for SUVs and crossovers at Ford Canada. “You’ll see V6 performance out of that engine, but we’re gearing it to the family that wants utility and to maximize fuel economy.”

Perhaps the most stunning news from the Explorer launch, though, was that Ford wants buyers to actually pay more for the smaller, less powerful engine. The company hasn’t disclosed how big the premium will be, but said the base prices for the various V6 models range from US$28,995 to US$37,995. (Gemin says pricing hasn’t been set in this country yet.)

One obvious reason Ford wants to charge more for the smaller engine is that it’s invested heavily for several years developing the EcoBoost technology. But with wild swings in the price of gasoline, the company feels it can put a premium on fuel mileage the same way it once charged more for bigger engines.

But the move is also a sign Ford’s management has achieved a level of self-confidence that’s been sorely lacking among the Big Three domestic automakers for years. After nearly tumbling into bankruptcy in 2006, Ford mortgaged every asset it had to raise financing for a turnaround. At the same time, Ford went outside the company to hire former Boeing senior executive Alan Mulally to lead the effort. By getting an early jump on its troubles, Ford was also able to shun bailout money from the U.S. and Canadian governments during the financial crisis, unlike GM and Chrysler, which still carry the stain of being wards of the state. With a string of successful vehicle launches, rising market share and five profitable quarters in a row—in its most recent quarter Ford earned US$2.6 billion—the Explorer launch is seen as extending that momentum. “Beyond all the numbers and financials, it’s the mental and psychological perception of Ford that’s playing to their benefit,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at

Not everyone is thrilled with the changes to the Explorer. The popular auto website Jalopnik trashed the new vehicle, saying it was targeted at soccer moms who are “[expletive] clueless about what makes a good SUV.” Meanwhile, one commenter on the Wall Street Journal website summed up the critics’ view: “This is nothing more than a sissy grocery-getter!”

Explorer traditionalists may be upset, says George Magliano, director of automotive forecasting in North America at IHS, but the fact is there were fewer and fewer of them every year. “At the end of the day, the thing isn’t selling,” he says. “Those people complaining about the new Explorer might be upset, but they weren’t out there buying the old version in any way, shape or form.”

In other words, Ford has finally clued in to what Explorer buyers want—a truck that lets them look like they scale sheer cliff walls on weekends, without having to mortgage their suburban homes each time they visit the gas pump.


The trucks are still big. The engines, puny.

  1. I have such an intense hatred for SUVs — but maybe I would feel differently if I drove one. Instead I am constantly dodging them and trying to see around them in order to drive. It's what moms drive around here instead of mini-vans. HATE! But I hope those to drive them enjoy them.


  2. What fascinates me is to watch how most drivers use these oversized soccer-mom specials. Count how many you see during commuter hours with a single occupant or ever being utilized in any so-called 'utility' way. Now the industry's scaling them down slightly and retagging them as 'crossovers' ever since SUVs went out of fashion. The US should look to the the rest of the world. In Europe roughly 50% of vehicles are TDI (Diesel) powered. I'm currently driving my 3rd diesel, a Jetta TDI Sportwagon and I regularly see this car average the upper 40s for highway MPG, occasionally even over 50 and upper 30s for local driving, all in a car with space for 5 + cargo and acceleration that can smoke the tires. No argument, this Explorer is a step forward for Ford in the US, but that still leaves us steps behind the rest of the world. Perhaps we should take a look at the TDI models Ford offers in Europe and wonder why these are not available to the American public.

    C.E. Grundler

    • Don't forget too, that diesel is not the final solution for us. The refineries in america couldn't keep up with demand if we all switched to diesels. Also, when it comes to refining it, you get more gallons of gas our of a barrel of oil, than you do of diesel. You get 19 gallons of gas from the barrel of oil, and only 10 gallons of diesel from that same barrel. That means a gas-powered vehicle getting 20mpg can drive 390 miles on a barrel of oil, while a diesel, at 26 mpg, can go only 270 miles. A meaningful difference and cleaner air for all. Diesel isn't the answer, sorry to say, but it can help.
      P.S. I found this info in the most recent edition of Car&Driver magazine pg 23. September 2010.

    • Its true most foreigners do have more options on less fuel consumption vehicles, but in America being a want want want country it wont change anytime soon..

      Just as walmart puts mom and pop out of business in retail. Its Amercian consummers that must want the change. Most Americans rather point the finger instead of educate themselfs for the future..

  3. I have a '94 with over 120K miles on it. Occasionally the "Check Oil" light comes on and that due to the seals needing changing. But if that's the ONLY problem, I'm doing good. I agree, it's a soccer moms car (my kids LOATHE soccer) but a great hauler for things. I love my '94. Not sure I want a 2011. Not even a 2010. I like the look and style of the older models. Why car companies ruin a good thing all the time (I could rant about Chrysler's mistakes all day as well).
    It's ashame that Ford had to go to such extremes just to get the public to notice the Explorer. I wonder how much that set them back?

  4. I would love to drive this amazing SUV, but it s way too expensive for me.

  5. happy to comment on a blog this good in wait behind the visit

  6. If their engine really does pull off V6 performance with only 4 cylinders I would be quite impressed. Now they need to implement it into their trucks if they have not done so already.

    • Given the horsepower/ torque produce by the current power-plants it seams excessive to think we need V-8's or even big V-6's to pull. Put on the right gear ratio transmission/ differential and there's no reason to lack power and have fuel mileage.
      The mussel car era has nothing on the current four bangers for overall performance (other than sound and burnout ability).

  7. For most of human use… trucks and SUV are useless…most people never use their capabilities…. Wait, no its not true! They are social status symbols, as we are so very much part of the animal kingdom.

    I've driven them (those my family used to own) but would never buy them… and up here In Canada, all that you see during a snow storm is Trucks and SUVs in the ditches…. Better with a low-gravity, front-traction car !

  8. It is nice to start seeing American cars that are worth considering. I have never owned anything other than BMW cars since I started driving as I have not found an American vehicle I actually wanted. While I don’t need an SUV, I could see myself adding this to my list if I were shopping for one, which is a step in the right direction. Jeep also looks to have SERIOUSLY stepped up as well. I won’t buy American out of any sense of duty but I sure as heck will buy something that makes me want to own and use it daily…Finally it looks like US car-makers might be getting the point.

  9. My neighboor has a big pickup that is so big and so powerful that she has a difficult time driving it – she pushed on the pedal and releases and the truck shoots down the road – it doesn't seem to have a roll forward slowly position – more like a dragster that shoots forward. Apparently she is thinking of a Honda Civic after scraping the side accidentally on a concrete barrier. I agree, why does the average person need so much power??

  10. Ford does it again! Now when are they going to make the Bronco Concept a reality?

  11. this actually looks pretty good… as far as the engine is concerned, do you really need it like that? Unless you are going to be using that SUV as a actual SUV, the engine doesn't matter too much just as long as it 4 and up

  12. Having been an SUV driver before they were "in" (my first was a 1974 International Scout) I find them much more practical and easier to drive than the 3 Chrysler minivans we have had. I drove a craptastic VW Jetta from 2001, and as much as it nickel and dimed me, I liked it. If you want real off road ability, buy a Jeep. The Explorer (my family has had 4) has been a utilitarian vehicle, but not truly the offroad companion that my brother's Jeep Cherokee with almost 225K miles on it has been.

    Ford hit a marketing home run. The Explorer is a Minivan in Wolves clothing. They got better mileage than the Grand Caravans did, and with careful packing, I could haul the same amount. Yes, the ride was rougher, but I enjoyed driving it more than the van.

    So its all about feel.

    If the Explorer purists don't like the new one, why didn't they buy more of the old ones!? Plus if the Eco-Boost engine proves viable, then sheer numbers will bring price down. Henry J Ford proved that theory already.

  13. These new SUV's will continue to clog highways. Only using a V6 instead of a V8 is a huge mistake. The car companies need to stop cowering to the environmentalists.

    • Check the current engine performance numbers vs those of the 80's when the relevancy of cyl numbers declined in regards to HP. A 140 hp in-line 4 can beat a Chevy small-block 350 until the gear ratios of the final drives get factored in. If the new rigs weren't so blasted over weight than we would have killer mileage with power to spare.

  14. Ecoterorists dictate the world what to do. The cleanest energy i.e. atomic is also a no no in their opinion. Everything that produces cheap energy is bad as it enhances the growth of civilization. The eco dream is 500 million people on the whole planet. The simplest way to get there is to ban CO2 – which is not a pollutant! If you are not allowed to produce CO2 or the fine for doing it is too high you stop doing it, so you close the factories, energy plants… And all this because there is a new religion – NO CO2ism.
    We can use the biggest, senseless gas guzzlers and we will not destroy the planet. It is stupid to use too much oil, but it is not criminal.

  15. I have a Range Rover Sport and find it to be the best all around vehicle. Carries baby, wife and stroller. Empty all of that and it carries enough gear for a small acoustic music show. Put it in 4 wheel drive and it kicks ass. Not bad on fuel for all that it does and has great safety ratings.

  16. Yes. The engines became puny, because the earlier were overdesigned. The bodies remained as they were because the size of the passengers remained the same or kept on inflating.

  17. i love ford

  18. Actually if you marry up a smaller powerplant to a good transmission and get the results you need, then the only obstacle left is dealing with the customer's ego. In this world of making things compact it should not matter how much cubic centimeters it occupies or how much petro it consumes. My engineering department in college took on making a hybrid mini-bus and surprisingly the space under the hood had been less occupied. The batteries was another story.

  19. Thing is if the engine is weak you are probably gonna use more gas getting the big thing moving and will need to be heavy on the peddle – Anyway god knows why Americans need such huge trucks anyway in Europe we manage perfectly well with much smaller cars.

  20. Quite true, some cars,trucks and pick ups today have over whelming sizes and features, but when you check whats under the hood. Practically just a small engine with an over sized body.

  21. i'm just glad their going eco.

  22. hate the damn things, one big weight that grates. n the environs.

    but the people, like them, like the way they look, the characters, everyone who comes out of them just…

    makes me smile


  23. Would be nice if they are able and want to implement DIESEL engines like in Europe.
    More savings better fuel economy

  24. It is looking something very much extra ordinary! i think this current model of GM Motors dont have enough Power because of Low Pickup Engines!