What it is
Ford Explorer America Concept Preview – Detroit Auto Show: It’s now official: Body-on-frame SUVs have lost the fight to crossovers. This news comes not from an announcement from the International Federation of Sport Utility Manufacturers or something, but from a new Ford concept car, the Explorer America. Hear the name “Explorer,” and you think of the original SUV, a body-on frame truck that transformed the definition of a family hauler. The Explorer America is a very futuristic look at what the next iteration of the vehicle could be and – surprise – it’s a crossover.
Why it Matters
The Explorer’s sales have plummeted in recent years as the popularity of crossovers has increased. It’s no surprise, really. Truck-based SUVs like the Explorer can’t measure up to the comfort and familiar driving characteristics of car-based crossovers, and the vast majority of buyers don’t care a whit if the traditional SUV is better off road. Ford’s not the first to ditch the SUV for crossovers; GM summarily executed the Chevy Trailblazer and GMC Envoy for crossovers for the exact same reason. Yet neither of those were as iconic as the Explorer.What’s Under the Hood
In an interesting move, Ford announced that the Explorer America Concept comes with one of two different engines. The first is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo with 275 horsepower, while the premium engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 with 340 horses. Fuel efficiency is said to improve by 20 to 30 percent versus the current V-6 Explorer. Either engine will be mated to a six-speed automatic with something called “auto shift control,” which allows the driver to hold a lower gear when needed with just the turn of a dial.
What it Looks Like
Despite the front end treatment, there’s a lot about the Explorer America that looks buildable. The profile hews to Ford’s current styling language, looking a little like a longer wheelbase Edge and a Taurus X. The flared fenders are exaggerated, but we like the muscular stance. We’re surprised that the big Ford chrome grille is gone, replaced with a body-color one. What really knocked us over was the sliding rear door...yup, just like a minivan. We doubt that would make it to production, since anything hinting at a minivan is almost suicidal in today’s market, but overall if Ford goes to production with something that looks close to this, they’ll have a very fashionable offering.
If the exterior looks plausible, the interior is, um, not. The seats are thin, but stackable, the tailgate includes an integrated work table and seats, and a cool three-dimensional compass and navigation system are perched on the instrument panel. The black-on-silver theme is one of those not-too-distant future things we expect from concept cars, and the kind that never get delivered in production. In this case, it’s probably a good idea, as the form is not particularly flattering.
What Ford Says
Press releases can be fun sometimes. Take this line from the Explorer America’s info: “In the 1990s, customers were drawn by SUVs aligned with people’s adventurous, more rugged lifestyles. Today’s consumers are more discerning, demanding products that are capable and flexible – but more intelligently executed.” Hey, did Ford just call the first Explorer dumb? The company thinks more highly of its customers, of course: “Customers are smart,” said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president of marketing and communications. “They value vehicles – the more efficient, the better.” This is about as close as we’ll ever come to Ford admitting that the current generation Explorer should have been a crossover in the first place.
What We Think
It’s time for the Explorer to change. Past time, really, as the Explorer’s lunch has been comprehensively consumed for the past couple of years. The new concept looks good, and the more realistic-sounding components – the drivetrain and the exterior styling – will be good forward steps for the company. Expect to see production versions in middle-class driveways nation wide by early next decade.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo credit: Ford