Thursday, December 1, 2011

2012 Ford Explorer - 225,000 Miles or Bust

Before 2011, Ford Explorers were never high on my list of vehicles with exciting design, so when I heard about the re-design, I didn't give it much thought since the last re-design wasn't what it said it was. But then I saw it. Finally an Explorer that's up-to-date, not too round, and not to square. But would it perform up to the standards that Explorer owners expect? Could it bring buyers from other brands? 

There was a lot riding on this new Explorer release and I was worried for the first few months that all the ads and Facebook videos were just hype. We were in the market for a new SUV last winter so we researched the Explorer, drove a few, and almost bought one.


  • Comfortable Cockpit
  • 3 Rows Standard
  • MyFord Touch & Sync technology which I love
  • Updated Design Inside & Out
  • 2 Liter 4-Cylinder EcoBoost Engine 
  • Low entrance height so kids can get in & out easily
  • Available Terrain Management System, 4-wheel drive system

Ford Explorers have always been workhorses, and before the nightmare with Firestone, they were always considered competent. According to many Facebook posts on the Ford Explorer page, there are a ton of Explorers out there with membership rights to the 200,000+ Mile Club. It sounded like most Explorer owners were eagerly awaiting the new 2011 version and based on my experience last winter trying to find one to buy, 2011 Explorers were hard to come by. I see more out on the road now, and inventory on the Ford lots, so anyone interested shouldn't have a hard time scaring up a test drive.

The Explorer design got stale and unappealing in the last few years, and with such a large fan base, Ford needed to make a bold move. The designers and engineers did their homework, put together a good team, and went on to leverage technology that other Ford vehicles haven't used -- like the AWD "Terrain Management System" borrowed from Range Rover. I didn't get to test this system in the mud, sand, or snow, but from what I've read it works like... well, a Range Rover. Maybe Ford will spring for a muddy track with hills & ruts at the next Auto Show I attend so I can test it out. (Not at the LA Auto Show. Test drives were available on flat, quiet streets.)

Comfy Cockpit
The front seats in the new Explorer are comfortable and arranged to take advantage of the center stack with all the bells & whistles of the MyFord Touch system. Even the front passenger can easily access the buttons & dials in the center stack to help keep the cabin at the right temperature and radio volume. There are two good-size cup holders in the center arm rest area if you have an Explorer equipped with the Terrain Management System, and three cup holders if you have the two-wheel drive version.

The second row has decent legroom for three more passengers with cup holders and air vents so they stay comfortable too. The third row is a bit tight for anyone over five feet tall, but is elevated a bit so that those short enough to squeeze back there can have a view out the front window. The seat folding mechanism to access the third row takes some practice and may be tough for youngsters to do on their own. If you spring for the Limited, you get power-fold third row, but still need to put muscle into folding the second row. (Or you can opt for the Limited with optional second row bucket seats and a walk-thru middle section.)

Other than the awesome technology, every thing else in the Explorer from a comfort standpoint is fairly routine and what you would expect from a more expensive SUV. It also depends on the trim level and options you buy. There are three trims available on the 2011 and 2012 Explorers: Base (starting at $28,000), XLT (starting at almost $32,000) & Limited (starting at $37,700). The Ford website is a great resource with explanations and videos of the standard and optional features of each trim level. As you can tell by the prices, the new Explorer isn't necessarily a vehicle that will fit in everyone's budget. But the new design, technology, and ease of repairs should convince luxury buyers to have a look before buying a new LexusMercedesRoverBMW.

Cargo Room

Tailgate Seat Option
The cargo capacity with third row folded down is good (single or double stroller plus grocery bags or dog). With third row up and in use, there is enough space for a few suitcases or grocery bags, but not the dog or a stroller. If the third row will be used regularly, invest in a topper. You can also opt for the "tailgate" seats for the third row: those two seats flip up and over and face out the back of the Explorer. Good for tailgating, camping, or picnicking. Sitting on the headrest might be uncomfortable for some smaller people who don't have much natural cushion to their backsides. 

MyFord Touch System on Center Stack
I'm a fan of the MyFord Touch with Sync system. I like the voice commands and the displays around the gauges and the ease of using the buttons on the steering wheel. So many of the features are well-thought out (like MyKey), and those that need tweaking will get updated as they go. The beauty of updating a system like this is it can be down with a software download from the vehicle and you don't need to take it in to the dealer to get these updates. When you go for a look and a test drive, take your smart phone and ask to sync it all up and play with the system. You may be surprised at how simple it is to use. And any Star Trek fans will like using the voice commands: "Computer: Adjust temperature to 70 degrees Fahrenheit." 

I hope to see more and more new Explorers on the roads in the future. I wonder who will be the first member of the 2011 Ford Explorer 200,000 Mile Club?

USB Port on Center Console
Let me know what you think of the 2011 or 2012 Explorers. It's a vehicle that I'm watching closely just in case I need a new SUV within the next year or two.

Photos courtesy of

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