If you’ve been following the development of the 2011 Ford Explorer, you can’t help but wonder if the classic SUV has been neutered to become just another cute ute. After all, base models will be powered by an EcoBoost four cylinder motor, it features unibody construction and it powers the wrong wheels unless you opt for the four wheel drive version. All these changes may produce a more fuel efficient Explorer, but can you still take it off road?
Feat not, lovers of the blue oval. On 4wd Explorer models, Ford will be re-using the terrain management technology developed for Land Rover, before the brand was spun off to Tata. By adjusting a knob located near the shifter, the driver can select one of four terrain modes plus hill descent. “Normal” is used for driving on pavement, “Mud” allows wheelspin to build momentum in the sticky stuff, “Sand” maximizes torque and “Snow” limits torque to prevent wheelspin. Hill descent allows the driver to crawl down steep or loose surfaces without locking the brakes and loosing traction.
The 2011 Ford Explorer won’t be challenging Jeep Rubicons or Toyota FJ Cruisers for off-road ability, but that never was the purpose of the Explorer. They’re bought to drive the kids to soccer practice, take the dog to the vet, haul mulch from Home Depot and get you safely from Point A to Point B in all kinds of weather. Since only 10% of SUV buyers ever take their vehicles off road, I’d say the new Explorer is probably right on the money.