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Explorer looks to rebound as a crossover

April 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
If any model name is associated with the Sport Utility Vehicle boom of the 1990s, it's Ford's Explorer.

The Explorer has been completely redone in 2011 for a new era.

It looks a bit different, but it's what can't be seen that's changed the most.

The Explorer is now built on a car-type platform and classified as a crossover. Better ride. Better efficiency.

The 1990s were the glory days for Ford's SUV. Gas was cheap and everyone seemed to suddenly want a truck to drive to the office or the mall.

But rollover crashes, tire recalls and lawsuits caused the Explorer to fall from grace. Sales suffered, even with a couple of redesigns.

With an eye toward safety, comfort and fuel economy, Ford has ditched the truck frame altogether.

Gone too is the optional V-8 engine, though its modern V-6 still provides plenty of power.

True four-wheel drive is also no longer available. It was replaced with all-wheel drive and an electronic aid called Terrain Management System.

So why did Ford so radically change the Explorer? They figured that of the hundreds of thousands of them sold over the years, the vast majority were being used as cars. So there are many advantages to making it into a version of a car.

However, for those looking to still drive a truck, they're not out of luck.

Ford still sells the Explorer's bigger brother, the Expedition, a true truck with V-8 power, low-range four-wheel drive as an option and a towing capacity of up to 9,200 pounds. That's way more than the Explorer's 5,000.

But the big one looks kind of old school next to the new Explorer, which offers a nice interior, advanced electronic safety features and options like the MyFord Touch system.

On the other hand, it doesn't at all feel like a truck. Some buyers may not like that and dismiss the new Explorer as too wimpy.

Times have changed for SUVs and the Explorer has changed too, while keeping the familiar name.