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2021 Ford Explorer Timberline aims to ruggedize the family SUV

The new trim will offer upgraded suspension and better tires to get you off the beaten path.

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Take your family to the red rocks of Moab, Utah in your tricked-out Explorer.

Ford

Ford is leaning heavily into the off-road market these days, with the new dirt-specific Tremor package for the Ranger, F-150 and SuperDuty pickup trucks. Now, Ford is giving the three-row Explorer SUV the rough-road treatment with the new Timberline trim, set to go on sale this summer.

The Timberline isn't quite as robust as the Tremor package, and it can't really touch the off-road capabilities of the upcoming Bronco, but it still boasts improvements over the standard Explorer. The Timberline's all-wheel drive system gains a Torsen limited-slip differential to replace the open rear differential. It doesn't have a low range or locking differentials, but alas, it's an improvement. This keeps the power going to the wheel that has the most traction for better off-road grip and performance, especially when paired with the Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tires measuring 265/65 on 18-inch wheels.

Ground clearance increases to 8.7 inches, approach and departure angles rise to 23.5 and 23.7 degrees, respectively, and 18.9 degrees for the breakover angle. That's not much more than the top-of-the-line Explorer's 8.2 inches of clearance and angles of 21, 22.3 and 17.7 degrees, but when the going gets rough, every little bit helps. Fortunately, the Timberline features skid plates from front to rear, so if you do hit something, the undercarriage remains protected. Upgraded shocks, originally developed for the Explorer Police Interceptor, should smooth over smaller hits, and the Timberline gets exclusive front rebound springs to keep impacts at bay. 

You can tow up to 5,300 pounds with the Explorer Timberline.

Ford

Despite these improvements, don't look for any kind of Baja drive mode. Like the standard Explorer, drivers can choose from normal, trail, deep snow/sand, slippery, sport, tow/haul and eco modes. There is downhill descent control as standard, and that keeps the Timberline at a steady pace anywhere from 2 and 12 mph so drivers can concentrate on steering. If you're hauling a trailer the standard Class 3 tow package allows for 5,300 pounds of towing capability, enough for an open trailer with a few toys or a small Airstream trailer.

Under the hood you'll find Ford's 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-four engine, good for 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It's a bummer that it won't be offered with the 3.3-liter V6 hybrid for better fuel economy, but such is life in the big city, I suppose. 

The Timberline launches with a neat-o Forged Green Metallic paint job with some blacked-out trim and plenty of Timberline badging. The de rigueur red tow hooks sit up front -- apparently recovery never needs to happen from the rear -- and the grille has an incorporated wiring harness for easy installation of aftermarket lighting.

Inside, drivers will find standard rubber floor liners and easy-to-clean ActiveX trimmed cloth seats with orange contrast stitching, so feel free to get yourself muddy. Heated front seats and a heated steering wheel should please front-row passengers, too. You'll also find unique interior trim colors and finishes that give the Timberline its own design aesthetic, as well as badging on the seats. As for active safety gear, buyers will get plenty of advanced driver aids in the Explorer Timberline. Full-speed adaptive cruise control comes along for the ride, as well as traffic sign recognition, lane centering and evasive steering assist. A standard 360-degree camera should help drivers see what's around them on a tight trail and a front-facing camera can help when cresting a blind hill.

The Explorer Timberline's price falls on the high end, slotting between the Limited and ST trims, at $47,010, including $1,245 for destination. But if a Bronco's just a little too rugged, the Timberline may be just the ticket.

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