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2011 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD (photos)

Ford reimagines the SUV with the new Explorer. Although it still looks trucklike, it has an independent suspension and electric power steering. Ford's new MyFord Touch interface has its own issues.

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Wayne Cunningham
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Ford's new Explorer is a big update to the model, attempting to modernize the SUV by giving it a more comfortable ride and better fuel economy.

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Ford retained much of the appearance of the previous generation, using the same trucklike front end. The body is also very boxy, maximizing interior space.

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For now, the Explorer comes with this 3.5-liter V-6, although Ford will make available a turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder, which should offer the same power and even better fuel economy.

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Ford fits three rows of seats into the Explorer, so it is capable of seating seven.

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Instead of a body-on-frame design, the new Explorer uses a fully independent suspension, giving it a more compliant ride. The Explorer is available with two- or four-wheel drive.

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The third row seats are small, and access is not easy, making them most appropriate for children.

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The third row folds down flat into the floor, making for some very useful cargo space.

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This midgrade XLT trim Explorer comes with a few options that upgrade the interior, giving it leather trimmed seats.

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The Explorer gets an electric power steering unit. It is tuned very well for road feel.

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With the MyFord Touch interface, there are LCDs on either side of the speedometer. The left shows vehicle data, while the right handles the infotainment systems.

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D-pads on each steering wheel spoke let the driver control what is shown on the instrument cluster displays.

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The right display can show music, phone, navigation, and climate control information.

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The Explorer XLT comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual gear selection mode operable with a button on the side of the shifter.

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This dial on the console lets the driver select different traction and engine control programs tailored to particular terrain types.

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One terrain mode is designed for slippery surfaces, such as snow, while another handles mud and ruts.

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The climate and stereo controls are touch buttons. They work very well and look good.

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The navigation system shows traffic information, and can dynamically route around bad traffic. Unfortunately, we found many instances where the navigation lost its GPS signal.

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Ford offers quite a few ways to enter destinations, but we generally preferred using the voice command system instead of the touch screen.

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Sirius Travel Link brings a lot of useful data into the car, such as gas prices and a weather report.

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The Explorer offers many audio sources, including satellite radio and two USB ports.

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The system can read USB drives and a wide variety of MP3 players.

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The stereo also has Bluetooth streaming, but as with most systems of this nature, there is not much control or information on the screen.

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The Bluetooth phone system downloads a phone's contact list, making it available on the screen or through voice command.

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For driver assistance, the Explorer offers this backup camera and blind-spot detection.

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The Explorer is not as rugged as its terrain selection system might suggest. Its ground clearance is not optimized for offroad conditions.

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