Customarily, auto manufacturers hold media events in one place and invite journalists in segmented date waves. Ford did things a little differently for the product reveal of its 2011 Ford Explorer. The manufacturer staged five events on the same day in different cities that rolled like waves across the time zones. We caught the end of the wave yesterday on the sandy shores of Venice Beach, California. 

If you're reading this fleet-minded blog then you already know that the new Ford Explorer ditched its traditional body-on-frame platform for a unibody construction, to produce better fuel economy and car-like drive characteristics. This then begs the question, "What's the tradeoff when it comes to capabilities?" The answer is especially relevant for fleets, many of whom are doing more than just kid and grocery hauling with their trucks. 

Paul Mascarenas, VP of engineering for global product development at Ford, answered thusly at the event: "The new Explorer meets the needs of 99 percent of our customers." 

He was quick to point out that the new Explorer is not a Taurus in an SUV body or a variant of the Edge or Flex crossover passenger vehicles. He explained that the new Explorer can still go off road very capably, but it's not built for "extreme off-road situations." When does off roading get "extreme?" Definitions vary, but it's where that 1 percent wants to go. 

The new Explorer's standard 3.5-liter V6 delivers 290 hp at 6,500 rpm, very close to the old V8's 292 hp at 5,700 rpm. The kicker is the new V6 is expected to get 20 percent better fuel economy. An optional (and more expensive) 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 boosts MPG by 30 percent over the previous model. And the four banger's 237 hp beats the old V6 by 27 horses. 

The new V6 engine will pull up to a 5,000-lbs trailer, 375 lbs less than the old V6 could. (The departed V8 could pull up to 7,115 lbs.) Is 5,000-lbs enough? To put an idea in your mind, that's about the dry weight of a medium-sized RV trailer. 

Trailer brake control wiring is included, as is trailer sway control. A tow/haul mode, engaged by an instrument panel-mounted button, optimizes the shift schedule to help the vehicle in hilly situations. 

The new Explorer is slightly longer and wider, and beats the previous model in first and second row headroom and legroom. Third row room suffers slightly, while total cargo volume behind the first row is a few cubic feet less than the old version. Seven passengers is a stretch (on any mid-sized crossover or SUV). The new Explorer fits between the Edge and Flex in passenger volume. 

In other spec comparisons, the new Explorer sheds weight with a smaller 18.6 gallon fuel tank (compared to 22.5), which when factored with better fuel economy should be a wash in terms of range. 

Ford added a terrain management system to the new Ford Explorer. The system, controlled by a knob on the center console, adapts the responses of the vehicle's engine, transmission, stability control and 4WD system to match terrain conditions. There are four settings: normal, snow, sand and mud and ruts. 

Ford says the system takes the guesswork out of 4WD range choice. That 1 percent might scoff at the snow and sand icons the way a professional photographer shuns the icons on a camera's mode selector wheel. The rest of us will appreciate the convenience.

Ground clearance is about the same as the outgoing model. Other confidence builders when it comes to off road are a four-wheel independent coil-spring suspension and Hill Descent Control.

The point is the new Ford Explorer can be configured for the great majority of drivers' needs. It's rugged and capable but with new levels of refinement and loads of convenience and safety technology-and the starting price of $28,190 beats the 2010 model by more than $1,000.

Leaving that 1 percent to their need for extreme bouldering, the new Ford Explorer should fit well within the parameters of usual fleet use. One fleet manager explained how her company previously used the Explorer as a manager/passenger-style vehicle, but removed it from the fleet to save money on fuel. She said if Ford offered a similar vehicle, but with better MPG, the company might reconsider using it in its fleet.


Chris Brown
Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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