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Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer 2011-2019

VMR Scorecard (1 to 10 scale)

Completely redesigned for 2011, the 5th generation Ford Explorer replaces its previous truck-based SUV with unibody construction to better compete in the crossover market (though Ford continues to classify the Explorer as an SUV).  It straddles the line between the rugged, truck-based, sport utility character of its predecessor and the car-like comfort of a contemporary crossover. For those of you that may occasionally venture off road, this vehicle was named the Best Off-Road SUV for Families by US News (whatever that means!). Though classified as a mid-size vehicle, most owners would describe the 2011 Explorer as a large SUV. It’s big enough to arguably replace some of the functionality of a minivan, a vehicle type that Ford no longer offers.

Drivers will still enjoy the traditional, high-above-the-road SUV view, which is still a common want for many shoppers in this segment. Anyone needing to tow more than 5,000 pounds (2,267 kg) (V6), however, should look elsewhere.  Towing capacity is down 2,100 pounds from the previous Explorer. The four-door/seven-passenger package is about 45 kilograms lighter than its predecessor yet stronger and 25% more fuel-efficient (according to Ford) while providing greater comfort, luxury, and refinement plus state-of-the-art technology and safety features. Attention to safety features in the 2011 redesign helped make the Explorer a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the group's highest designation. 

The most significant change to this generation Explorer occurred for the 2016 model.  Gone are the almost triangular headlights and awkward grille. New headlights feature stylish LED lights that border the outside of the housing, giving the Explorer an imposing look.  Also up front, the fog lights find homes in areas meant to make them a design element and not an afterthought. The big change, however, was the introduction of the Explorer’s new top-level trim – named Platinum – that competes with the Dodge Durango Citadel and GMC Acadia Denali. Those two vehicles have been playing at a price point unserved by Explorer. The Platinum boasts 20-inch wheels, a dual panel sunroof, silver painted front and rear skid plates, satin chrome lower cladding and mirror caps.  It also offers all the amenities one would expect in a luxury trim SUV, such as adaptive cruise control, 500-watt Sony audio, leather galore, new metal finishes, and a fully digital instrument cluster. The same powerful 3.5L EcoBoost V6 as the Explorer Sport (introduced in 2013) powers the Platinum.

What's Available
The 2011 Explorer is a 7-passenger, mid-sized cross-over style available in Base, XLT and top-line Limited trim. Standard on all models was a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine. An optional turbocharged 240-horsepower four-cylinder engine arrived for the 2012 model year limited to front wheel drive models only. The sole transmission was a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is available.
 Interior Cabin
 Safety Score
Cramped Third Row
Limited Towing Capacity
Base Explorer - cloth seat-upholstery; cruise control, air conditioning with separate rear controls, four 12-volt plugs, MyFord driver connectivity, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a six-speaker sound system with an MP3 jack, and tinted second- and third-row windows. Black door handles, side mirrors and roof rails, body color front and rear bumper and 17-inch steel wheels.

XLT – additional features include back-up warning system, Sirius Satellite Radio, chrome door handles, gloss-black heated side mirrors, fog lamps, automatic headlights and 18-inch aluminum wheels, premium cloth upholstery, leather steering-wheel and shift knob, SecuriCode keyless-entry pad and the SelectShift feature.
Limited – additional features include leather-upholstered, remote vehicle starter, Sony premium audio system with HD Radio, MyFord Touch, Safety items include AdvanceTrak with Roll Stability Control and Curve Control, Hill Start Assist, antilock brakes, front/front-side/side-curtain airbags and a rollover sensor.
Limited models also come with such luxuries as leather seats with heated front seats, a 10-way power driver’s seat, 6-way power passenger seat, dual zone climate control, Intelligent Access with push-button ignition, remote start, a rear view camera and the world’s first inflatable second row safety belts, which distribute the force of the seatbelt on the body 5-times that of traditional belts to better protect second row passengers who, because of their youth or old age, are more susceptible to chest injuries in accidents.

Although its overall shape and scale carry over, the fully restyled 2011 Ford Explorer boasts a cleaner and classier appearance - along with 12-percent better aerodynamics. Slightly longer and lower with a significantly wider track, it displays a more assertive stance and more prominent body sculpting. A broad grille with wraparound headlamps gives it a commanding look to some but others are less complementary. A high beltline, pronounced wheel well arches and boomerang tail lamps add definition.

The base Explorer has roof rack side rails, 17-inch steel wheels, a rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips. Available features include automatic headlamps, fog lamps and heated side mirrors. Ford also makes available 18-inch painted aluminum wheels and a dual-panel moon roof.

2014 Explorer dash 2014 Explorer
Wide bucket seats in the first row are followed by a three-seat tilt-and-fold bench seat in the second row. The third-row seat offers a 50/50-split layout. The entry models have cloth seats. Ford uses soft-touch materials throughout the cabin, with some plastics found in out-of-the-way places or serving as trim. Opinions vary on the quality and look of the interior materials vis a vis the competition so judge for yourself.

The Explorer's dashboard can come outfitted with touch-sensitive controls and LCD gauge screens. It's part of a MyFord Touch package that's optional on the XLT and standard on the Limited. MyFord Touch puts, among other things, an LCD screen on each side of the speedometer. Drivers can configure what information — from a virtual tachometer to music and navigation information — goes on those screens. There have been mixed reviews of the MyFord touch interface with some calling it “finicky”. Ford replaced it in 2017.

The 7-seater Explorer’s cabin is spacious and generally comfortable by most reports. Second-row captain's chairs, optional on the Limited, reduce capacity to six.  The center console is neatly organized; a deep descent sized compartment is found between the front seats under the armrest and there is a two-tier glove box and large door pockets. The second row seat is fixed limiting flexibility in leg room for passengers sitting there.  Additionally, third row seat accessibility is reportedly cumbersome and space is roomier in some competitor offerings.  Again, space needs are unique to each family so make the determination based on your individual family make up.  There are always trade offs in vehicle purchases.

Model Year Changes
New design
New EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylidner engine option for FWD model
Base, XLT, Limited trim levels
- Updated paint colors
- New Sport performance model introduced.  Equipped with similar features as the Limited model.
Base, XLT, Limited, Sport trim levels
- Automatic headlights now standard on all Explorers
- Adaptive cruise control was newly optional on Limited
- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport trim levels
- Eighteen inch wheels now standard on base model
- Appearance pkg available on XLT
- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport trim levels
- Revised styling and suspension
- New top of the line Platinum model powered by a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6
- Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine replaced by a more powerful turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder unit. The new 4-cylinder is available with all-wheel drive, whereas the old four was front-drive only.
- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum trim levels
- A new SYNC 3 touch screen infotainment system replaces MyFord Touch interface
- Sport Appearance Package debuts for the XLT model
- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum trim levels
- Freshened styling
- Wi-Fi hotspot is newly available
- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum trim level
- Gains safety features. Blind-spot alert is now standard on all Explorers except the base model.
- Safe and Smart Package (adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and mitigation, and lane-keep assist) is now standard on Platinum and is available on XLT, Limited, and Sport.
- Base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum trim levels
All New Design for 2020

Of note, the driver's seat powers back every time the engine is turned off. This is not typical in this class, so perhaps Ford realized that it can be uncomfortable for some individuals to get in and out of the vehicle as the floor height is above knee level. There's also a dip from the doorsill to the interior floor. 

Yet another way the new Explorer improves on the old is its reduced noise, with less sound from the road entering the cabin, allowing for occupants to more easily hold a conversation.  With either engine, there’s impressively little coarse-surface tire hum, and wind noise is also very well suppressed.

Cargo space is limited to 595 litres (21 cu. ft.) with all three rows in place in a well behind the third row, while dropping the third row (power-operated in Limited models with the Luxury Seating Package) increases capacity to 1,240 litres (43.8 cu. ft.). Folding the second row makes for 2,285 litres (80.7 cu. ft.).  Maximum cargo volume is down 3 cubic feet from 2010. Competing crossovers have more space. For example, the Traverse offers 24.4/116.4 cubic feet and there's 17.2/100.7 cubic feet in the CX-9, but both of those are larger vehicles. Some complaints of a high load-in height in the cargo area made clearing the bumper for heavier items more difficult.

All models initially came with a 3.5-liter V6 engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. This V6 produces 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, numbers in line with the V8 it replaced from the previous year. Power certainly isn’t lacking and fuel economy is best-in-class with US estimates of 25-mpg on the highway for front drive models and 23-mpg highway for AWD versions, with both getting 17-mpg city. Canadian estimates from Natural Resources Canada are 12.5 city/8.8 hwy L/100 km.

Ford offered an optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that churns out 237 ponies and 250 pound-feet of torque in 2012 (limited to front-drive models).  Ford claims the lighter-duty alternative delivered 30-percent better fuel economy that the old V6. All models use regular unleaded fuel.

Other technologies that reduce fuel consumption include electric power assisted steering (EPAS), a variable displacement air conditioning compressor and a transmission that provides lower initial gears for improved acceleration from a standstill, and lower engine speeds when cruising.

It’s smooth on the highway and composed in the corners although some reviews felt there was a bit too much “lean” in some situations. The Explorer is quick to react in car-like fashion, the steering is direct and the vehicle follows through with far less roll (not withstanding the previous comment) that one would expect by looking at the size of it. Standard with the Explorer's all-wheel drive is Ford's new Terrain Management System. Similar to systems employed by Land Rover, the Terrain Management System adapts drive train settings to suit one of four environments: pavement, snow, sand or mud. Drivers simply pick the icon on a console knob that matches the conditions outside.

Overall, the Explorer has proven to be about average in reliability.  There have been a few glitches in the areas of electronics (not uncommon these days), trim, and minor mechanical issues. As one would suspect, both quality and reliability seems to have increased over the model's run, with the later years showing few issues. So while not at the top of the pack, the Explorer's track record here shouldn't prevent you from considering it for your garage. 

The Explorer's resale value tends to migrate to the average for most models. The exceptions are the Sport and Platinum models, which are in demand as used vehicles and often bring healthy premiums above their more pedestrian siblings.  Always a big seller, the lesser models are out there in abundance and can be bought at reasonable prices. Current Explorer values.
The 2011 Ford Explorer is a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the group's highest designation. That means it earned top scores of Good in front, side and rear crash tests, as well as in a roof-strength test.

Inflatable seat belts are an option for the second-row seats in the XLT and Limited, at $195. These are the first ever offered on any vehicle, and will cover just outboard second-row passengers. The concept of the belts is to control head and neck movement in a crash, as well as to reduce pressure on the chest from the belt itself — a common safety risk for smaller passengers in crashes.

Another important safety feature added to the 2011 Explorer is Curve Control, which acts like a more extreme version of stability control to detect when a vehicle is entering a corner too fast and applies the brakes five times quicker and harder to drop speed by as much as 10 mph in under a second.

Optional safety features can also be had, including a collision warning system as part of Adaptive Cruise Control; a Blind Spot Information System, Cross Traffic Alert, a Back-Up Camera and MyKey, that lets a key be programmed to limit things like speed and stereo volume while ensuring traction control can’t be turned off.

NHTSA  Safety Ratings  (5 is the highest rating)
Front Impact Test
Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test
Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury – 5

Rollover - 4

Key Competitors

Toyota Highlander, 4Runner
Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Equinox, Traverse
GMC Acadia
Dodge Durango
Honda Pilot
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Hyundai Santa Fe XL
Kia Sorento
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder
New Car Prices
Dealer Cost for New Vehicles