2011 Ford Explorer Review

Front 3/4 view of a red 2011 Ford Explorer driving on a wet winding road
The 2011 Ford Explorer.
Once upon a time, there was a vehicle that seemingly everyone bought. You saw it everywhere. The time was the 1990s and the vehicle was the Ford Explorer.

Then bad things started to happen...blowouts and rollovers...the tires were to blame (along with people who didn't know how to respond to a blowout...I was in three such instances in Explorer TV news units, and thanks to calm, cool photographer/drivers, there was little drama involved), but the Explorer's halo took a hit, and so did sales.

Well, that might be a good thing in the long run, because those declining sales prompted Ford to completely re-think the Explorer and what it should be for 2011 and the foreseeable future beyond.
The new Explorer moves from truck-based to car-based but still keeps the rugged good looks of more traditional mid-size SUVs.

Rear 3/4 view of red 2011 Ford Explorer with Chicago skyline in background
Rear 3/4 view of the 2011 Ford Explorer.

In a vacuum, this would be a big-time home run. But the competition (namely Jeep) chose 2011 to re-do its Grand Cherokee, complete with a quantum leap in interior quality.  So the Explorer can take nothing for granted. And it doesn't. It drives well, rides better and there's a sense of solidity, security and quality that is a new high for the Explorer nameplate.

The price is right...starting at $28,360 for the 2-wheel drive base Explorer. Ours was the 4WD XLT...same 283 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, same EPA fuel economy rating of 17 city/25 highway. But you add Sirius Satellite Radio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control, secondary audio and other controls, front unique cloth bucket seats, the SecuriCode keyless entry keypad, a reverse sensing system, and powered/heated folding outside mirrors with led turn signals and security approach lamps. And the price goes up to $33,190.

Still not too shabby.

Interior view of 2011 Ford Explorer
The 2011 Ford Explorer interior.
The Ford press fleet people kept the options list short, too...Rapid Spec package 201A was the big ticket...adding MyFord Touch, SYNC, a rear view camera, dual zone climate control and a premium audio upgrade for $1,750. There was also a trailer tow package ($570), $395 for the special Red Candy Metallic Tint paintjob and $795 for the voice-activated navigation system (when the price gets that much below the typical $2,000 for a factory nav system, we won't argue against it).

Tack on $805 for destination and delivery, and the Explorer bottom-lined at $37,505...exactly $580 below the Jeep Grand Cherokee we reviewed last month.  But watch those options choices...open the 2012 Explorer page on the Ford website and you'll see these sobering words:

"$28,170 starting MSRP (yep, a price cut from 2011). As shown $46,370."

Yes, kids, you can add darn near 20-grand to the sticker price of your Explorer if you get carried away.

But back to ours...a solid, strong choice at $37,505 as equipped. That $580 price advantage over the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo is nothing for Ford to get comfy over, though...as terrific as the Explorer's new interior is, Jeep (and all of Chrysler) is swinging for the bleachers in that area...and with the Grand Cherokee, succeeding...and if you're thinking of indulging in some off-roading, the Jeep reputation is tough to beat.

Nonetheless, after years of decline, the Explorer is back...and it's by far the best Ford Explorer ever.