The Explorer is one of Ford's most comfortable and durable SUVs. However, to get the most value for money, you must know the best year for the Ford Explorer.

The Explorer has earned a reputable place in the market. The first Explorer model was released in 1991; however, there have been numerous updates and releases since then.

2011 is the best year for the Ford Explorer. With a reliable and high-powered engine and additional modern features, the 2011 Explorer took the market by storm. It has reclaimed the SUV audience it lost thanks to the higher-class cabin, increased fuel economy, and enhanced on-road performance.

Overall, the new 2011 Ford Explorer is considerably more in line with the needs of today's SUV buyers. It handles well, gets good fuel economy for its class, and retains the versatility that first drew people to other SUVs.

We have tested out multiple Ford Explorer models over the years and can conclusively say that the 2011 model stands head and shoulder above the rest.

Best Year Ford Explorer

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Best Year Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer 2011 has certainly knocked some of the remaining SUV fans off their very high horses and has an alarming shot aimed at the entire crossover market.

Back in the 90s, the Ford Explorer was knocked off the best-selling list after a devastating recall of one of its tires. The brand name soon fell out of the sky. At that time, Ford had a near-miss with business insolvency.

Since then, Ford has undergone the most drastic transformation to a family-friendly SUV. It not only completed the transformation but made it convincing by letting go of its old "it-goes-everywhere" pretense.

Ford sent reassuring messages to its customers that the model was better than ever on the roads; however, it still has some reservations on trail-riding.

The 2011 Ford Explorer, also known as the "21st-century SUV" by owners, is always ready to get some dirt under its fingernails because it is not some dainty roadside flower. Let's dig a little deeper into the characteristics that distinguish the 2011 model from the rest in its class.

MPG and Performance

A 3.5-liter V6 engine with 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, with front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission, is standard on the 2011 Ford Explorer. Optional four-wheel drive (no low-range gearing) comes with Ford's Terrain Management Technology, and a four-mode system optimizes traction in varying circumstances. It also comes with hill start assist and hill decline control.

A 4WD Explorer tested by Edmunds traveled from zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, which is about typical for the class. With two-wheel drive, Ford estimates 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway. In addition, a 5,000-pound towing capacity is available.

Safety

Mykey (allows parents to set limitations for stereo level and vehicle speed), side curtain airbags, front side airbags, trailer sway control, and traction and stability control are all standard on every 2011 Ford Explorer. T

The Explorer's stability control system also incorporates Curve Control, which helps to slow the car down at the time of turns. Inflatable seat belts (late availability) and a blind-spot warning system (with cross-traffic alert) for second-row outboard passengers are available as options on the XLT.

Driving

The 2011 Ford Explorer is no longer a truck – it is an experience. It comes with a rock-solid frame that is well-damped over bumps. It also performs well on turns and does not lose control.

Ford knows how to calibrate electric power steering, which allows for an automatic parking system and improved fuel economy. Although the new Explorer lacks a V8, its new V6 engine is more efficient and faster.

Interior

The 2011 Ford Explorer ushered in a new age of interior excellence for the Ford brand as a whole, not just the Explorer. The dash is nice to the touch, the switchgear is precise (touch-operated with the MyFord Touch option), and the overall appearance is fairly premium. In fact, a fully outfitted Explorer has a nicer inside than almost any Lincoln.

However, we have mixed thoughts about MyFord Touch because the touch buttons are hard to spot at first glance, and the matching touch screen has small button icons against a black background. The speedometer-flanking LCD screens and the unnecessary steering wheel controls can be improved to make a better interior. Overall, it works better when the car is stationary.

The Explorer's cabin is bigger than before, but it's still not as big as the Chevy Traverse's cabin. Its maximum load area of 80 cubic feet is the smallest of the bunch, and the third row is a touch snug in contrast. Although the Explorer's wide pillars and high dash make the car appear larger when maneuvering through tight spaces, the driving position is ideal for most drivers.

Styling

The 2011 Ford Explorer has a distinctive and credible SUV body and a well-executed interior that sets it apart from practically every other SUV, including the more expensive German models.

The 2011 Explorer's body is like a truck as it has always been but in a much better way. If you follow the angled sheet metal around the automobile, you'll notice the modest rolled corners and embossed sides that give the upright body a gentle car-like shove.

The Explorer's broad horizontal ribs, tall grille, and high hood combined with the characteristic angle of the C-pillar go back to the days when it was America's best-selling wagon. The SUV impression disintegrates once you step inside the Explorer cabin, and with good reason. The interior of the first Explorer was dreadful, and the last iteration was bland and dull.

In 2011, however, Ford was more focused on the interiors of Audi and BMW. Given the new Flex and F-150's stunning interiors, the Explorer's convincing, well-made cabin easily defeats some of those ambitious goals. The Explorer's dashboard is significantly more attractive than the Audi Q7's.

Performance

The crossover/SUV sector lies amid the gray area – what is more SUV (sporty) and what is truly a crossover? Well, the 2011 Explorer wants to have its cake and eat it, too – and it does! While the Jeep Grand Cherokee goes to great lengths to earn the title of "trail-rated," the Explorer relies on car-based running gear and a slew of electronics to get you approximately 80% of the way to the same goal.

The spec sheet should provide you your first indication, as "FWD" (front-wheel drive) is the standard drive train configuration.

Jeeps can have HEMI engines, but the 2011 Ford Explorer opts for a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A lot of quieting and tweaking has softened the characteristics of this engine; you can now talk to passengers in the second row while you're driving.

It also outperforms the V-8 Explorer: with lower gearing in the first four gears and 255 pound-feet of torque, it's nearly brisk off the mark. A switch to select a sport mode, which speeds up steering and transmission reactions, is available on some models.

The lack of shift paddles on the Explorer means you have to take your hand off the wheel to activate the mode, but at least the transmission responds swiftly to shift requests and has hard-line logic that retains lower speeds more eagerly than some other automatics.

The Explorer's components have been strengthened up a little, but an electric power steering and an independent suspension give this new Explorer a carlike appearance. The vehicle channels its ride motions with the support of its considerable curb weight.

When you choose the four-wheel drive, Ford adds an extra helping of technology to help the Explorer overcome some of the concessions it's built in to make it more pleasant to drive in normal situations. It revolves around a single knob that controls a new terrain-management system with multiple modes.

In Normal, Mud & Ruts, Sand, and Snow modes, the system can adjust throttle speed, transmission shifts, and all traction needs at each wheel separately. The arrangement removes most of the ambiguity surrounding proper technique in tackling sand, pits, mud, and steep downhill grades for most drivers.

Turn the knob, and the Explorer will trundle down a road with alternating deep ruts, for example, utilizing its anti-lock sensors and algorithms to detect traction patches and compensate for a lack of grip. All those electronics can't smooth out the transitions between slips the way a professional driver can with left-foot brakes.

Ford hasn't mentioned a skid-plate option. The Explorer's towing capacity has been reduced to 5000 pounds, which the firm claims is something a little extra for their customers—moving jet skis, trailers, and other recreational activities vehicles is no problem.

You're missing the bigger picture if you're arguing about the Explorer's towing capacity, electronics takeover, low gear ratio, and lack of frame rails. Ford has now admitted that nearly all Explorer owners are content with less ultimate off-road capabilities in exchange for more refinement, improved fuel economy, and enhanced handling and ride — all of which are only possible with car-based underpinnings. On those grounds, the new Explorer is a clear winner.

Quality & Comfort

The 2011 Ford Explorer has less passenger space than the seven-seat Flex, but it still seats at least five people with room to spare. The 2011 Ford Explorer falls short of the Flex in terms of horizontally usable space, making loading people and cargo easier. Despite this, the new Explorer prioritizes headroom and ease of access while laying out its features.

The Explorer supports the passenger and driver in the front with active headrests and softer cushions that don't push forward as far as some recent Fords have. The second-row seat isn't quite as comfortable. Headroom for a six-foot passenger increases by more than four inches without the sunroof option, and the Explorer is unquestionably wider than before (by about five inches).

The Explorer's seat-bottom cushions are the source of contention. The bottom cushion on a normal second-row bench seat is short and slightly tilts down at the front edge. The Explorer misses the movable second-row bench seen in the Chevy Equinox, but we'd exchange that for a correctly angled bottom cushion.

Despite being an "SUV," the Explorer apes the most innovative crossovers with easy-flip seats. The second-row chairs include levers that make it easy to fold the seats for access to the cramped third-row seat that is designed for children. Buckets can be used in place of the second-row bench, which still folds forward.

The third row seat of the 2011 Explorer can fold out of the way when you need to transport extra luggage. You'll find some of the Explorer's least appealing plastics and trim in the cargo bin, but you'll also be able to fit in 21 cubic feet of cargo. That's only behind the third-row seat; slide the back two seats forward, and the Explorer offers 81 cubic feet of free space at knee height.

Safety

The 2011 Ford Explorer, with its Top Safety Pick rating and inflatable seat belt, is on its way to providing class-leading crash protection. All kinds of safety systems are built into the cocoon of the 2011 Ford Explorer, and the results are already showing up in at least one set of safety ratings.

Ford installs dual front, side, and curtain airbags on every Explorer. Active headrests, stability and traction control, and anti-lock brakes that don't protrude forward as far as some contemporary Fords are also standard.

The Explorer's elevated seating position, like that of most SUVs, provides excellent forward visibility, but it's far less in the back, where thick C-pillars can obscure the view over the vehicle's corners.

The Explorer's options list includes the most up-to-date safety equipment. Option packages include curve control, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot detectors, which predict tight curves and pull the Explorer back before it goes out of line. Ford's new inflatable seat belts are meant for passengers in the middle row and are supposed to provide additional safety for individuals in the event of an accident.

What kind of impact will those new features have? The new Explorer has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, even though none of them have yet been crash-tested by independent agencies (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) scores have yet to be released.

Features

The revolutionary MyFord Touch technology in the 2011 Ford Explorer pushes the envelope and sharpens the cutting edge. With the advent of the new Explorer generation, Ford has reduced Explorer costs, but the wagon still comes with a long list of standard amenities and equipment.

Ford's MyFord Touch system efficiently substitutes the stock versions' knobs and buttons with a huge touch-sensitive LCD screen. Drivers may control audio, navigation, and climate features using their fingertips to swipe and push through menus, or they can use buttons on the steering wheel to accomplish most of the same things.

The eventual goal for Ford is to leverage both of these redundant technologies to guide most drivers to voice controls, which MyFord Touch coordinates via the SYNC system's Bluetooth links.

Consumer Reports and other media sites have criticized the system for its minor touch sensitivity and seeming complexity reported in the Explorer and the 2011 Lincoln MKX and Ford Edge that also use the system. After a couple of long journeys, we've become used to the system and have experienced some minor hiccups, such as the GPS system shutting down while routing to a destination.

The Explorer's spreadsheet cells now have greater connectivity thanks to the extra USB connector, which allows you to link in a 3G dongle for mobile Wifi. Inflatable seat belts, active Park assist, a power third-row seat, ventilated seats, huge 20-inch wheels, premium audio system, GPS system, and a power sunroof are also on the list.

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Ford Explorer, which is better than average in the crossover class, shrinks its power to achieve significant fuel-economy gains. Ford's fuel-efficient Fiesta hatchback and the Fusion Hybrid car have gained wide green stripes in recent years.

It'll get greener with the Explorer because the new Ute has gone through a major transformation, with smaller-displacement engines and turbocharging replacing massive, old, inefficient V-8 engines.

The 3.5-liter V-6 is now the Explorer's lone engine option. The EPA has yet to confirm its numbers, but Ford says it expects 17/25 mpg, with all-wheel-drive variants expected to lose a mile or two per gallon. We got a nice, round 20 mpg on a full day drive in a loaded Explorer XLT AWD. According to Ford, these figures are a 25% gain over the previous Explorer's base V-6, although actual street performance is comparable to the outgoing V-8.

Those figures are also higher than the Flex's 17/24 mpg and the 16/23 mpg of the Grand Cherokee V-6. Ford is planning a 237-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine for the next Explorer, which it claims will improve fuel economy by 32 percent.

About THE AUTHOR

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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