At the unveiling of the 2011 Ford Explorer in Miami, Fla. today, J Mays, Ford Motor Company's Group Vice President of Design and Chief Creative Officer, sat down to talk about the details of the company's redesigned SUV. Tasked with redefining the Explorer nameplate, Mays breaks down the details for the new full-size SUV including key market distinctions and new innovative features. Like the original Ford Explorer that helped spark the SUV craze back in 1990, the 2011 Explorer continues to be a rugged, capable vehicle with an added focus on refinement, technology and fuel efficiency.
The new Ford Explorer will ride on Ford's D-platform and slot in between the Ford Edge and the Ford Flex with each of the three crossovers targeting a distinct customer. According to Mays, the Edge and Flex are both stylish crossovers that are not meant for any kind of off-roading, but the new Explorer will be a three-row crossover that seats up to seven passengers and delivers 'loads of towing capability and off-road capability.'? Despite sharing its platform with both the Flex and the 2010 Ford Taurus, Mays stated that the new generation will retain its ruggedness that has helped sell more than six million Explorers since 1990 with more than 4.5 million still on the road today.
'We didn't create an SUV off the Taurus; we created an SUV off the D-platform,'? Mays said. 'All of that structure and rigidity is built in from the start which has the added benefit of making the Flex and Taurus extremely strong, but we built the platform with this vehicle in mind because it has the most capability.'?
The fifth-generation Ford Explorer will feature a smaller wheelbase and less interior space than the Flex, but it will also get the newest addition to the EcoBoost engine lineup, the 2.0-liter inline-four. Although official pricing has yet to be released, this direct-injected and turbocharged engine will be optional, and it will deliver the power of a V-6 with 237 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is expected to be 30 percent better than the current Explorer V-6. Specific EPA fuel economy estimates haven't been announced yet, but Mays said 'the I-4 EcoBoost gets better gas mileage than the Toyota Highlander Hybrid'? (which gets a combined 26 miles per gallon for 2010). Further gains to the new Explorer's fuel economy will come from better aerodynamics and a reduction of more than 100-pounds of curb weight compared to the outgoing model, but Mays made a point to mention the fact that the Explorer will not offer more advanced or fuel efficient powertrains such as electric, hybrid or diesel.
Base model Explorers will come with the 3.5-liter V-6 that will have the added benefit of Ford's twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) to produce 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. This engine produces almost as much horsepower as the 4.6-liter V-8 used in the 2010 Explorer with a broader torque curve and an increased maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds - an increase of 500 pounds over the current model.
'We're pretty confident that we hit the balance between the towing capability, great fuel efficiency and just the right amount of off-road capability with the Terrain Management System,'? Mays said.
Similar to Land Rover's Terrain Response System, the new Explorer's Terrain Management System will feature a knob for the driver to select between three different off-road modes that include Mud/Rut, Sand and Snow. This system will also feature Hill Descent Control for even better off-road maneuverability. Unlike past models, the new Explorer will not be available as a two-door or Eddie Bauer model, and there will be no new Ford Explorer Sport Trac. Down the road, Mays also hinted at a police package that could be available soon to complement the upcoming Ford Taurus Police Interceptor.
Other than the new Explorer, Mays has played a key role in the development of other crucial Ford vehicles such as the 2005 and 2010 Ford Mustang, 2010 Ford Taurus, 2009 Ford F-150 as well as important Explorer-related concept vehicles such as the 2007 Ford Interceptor Concept and the 2005 Ford Fairlane Concept. The all-new 2011 Ford Explorer will be produced at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant alongside the Taurus and the Lincoln MKS following Ford's $400 million investment in the plant and the addition of 1,200 new jobs. In all, the new Ford Explorer will help create 1,800 new jobs for Ford and its suppliers when it goes on sale this winter
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross