2011 Ford Explorer Limited car review: No more plaid flannel

2011 Ford Explorer Limited

The 2011 Ford Explorer Limited is ready for what the weatherman can throw at it.

The original Ford Explorer, the truck that defined the sport-utility vehicle, a new market segment for the ’90s, , had a woodsy, manly aura that made the Explorer “Eddie Bauer”, name after the sportsman’s outfitter, the top trim line. Not anymore. Plaid flannel isn’t popular anymore, so it’s just in time that the 2011 Ford Explorer arrived.

Not that the new 2011 Ford Explorer is no longer recognizable as an Explorer. To the contrary. The model has too much love among the knotty pine set to abandon it altogether. Yet the Explorer profoundly out of date. The truckish ride from the truck-framed Explorer had grown old, and most owners didn’t need 4-wheel low range, and the ear-flap hunter’s cap styling wasn’t even fashionable for hunters, much less people who wanted to share the suburban lumberjack aura.

The 2011 Ford Explorer, however, stuck the center of the target like a deftly thrown axe. It’s instantly recognizable as an Explorer, and not just to owners of the last generation of Explorer owners. But if Ford is worried about losing owners to other makes, any concern is unwarranted, at least if the reaction our test 2011 Explorer Limited is any measure. We could have sold it several times over.

2011 Ford Explorer Limited

The 2011 Ford Explorer Limited has SYNC as standard equipment.

The new Explorer is based on the Ford’s multi-use platform that rides under everything from the Ford Taurus to the Lincoln MKX, though substantially modified for genuine off-road use. It has the two box shape of the traditional SUV but more sophisticated, with softened corners and tapered lines rather than, well, two boxes. Ford neatly adopted a grille with perforated horizontal bars as used in its car lineup and the taillights would look at home on any automobile.

“Sumptuous” defines the interior of our test Explorer Limited. “Pecan” perforated leather combines with charcoal trim on the seats on the luxury seating package of our tester which had the luxury seating package, also repeated on the dash and other interior surfaces. The center stack is flanked by bright flares, most likely of plastic but neatly holding either side of the large touchscreen display.

The speedometer, centered on the instrument panel has color LCD miniscreens on either side, as first appeared on Ford Fusion Hybrid and later Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. And like those screens, the ones in the Ford Explorer are reconfigurable, with a choice of items displayed…or not displayed at all.

The large center screen is used for a surprising number of functions and is profoundly complete. Learning to use the standard SYNC system will take time but with the sheer amount of stuff  going on, a copilot a good idea until that happens. Even then, accurate finger touches are needed and attempts to steady our aim with the screen frame often resulted in turning on the four-way flashers because Ford put the button in exactly the wrong spot.

Our test 2011 Ford Explorer Limited had the voice activated navigation system. It look us long enough to master all of the functions manually. We’ll have to learn Ford’s voice system on another test. Ford’s four-way thumb controllers on the steering wheel spokes, however, help the driver navigate around the screen and will become as second nature as a computer mouse is to most people now.