Explorer now has unibody construction

Explorer now has unibody construction

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After months of drip-feeding details of its redesigned Explorer SUV, Ford officially launched the new model today with a media blitz including high-profile launch events in major US and Canadian cities including New York, company HQ in Dearborn, Washington, Chicago (where it is built), Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami. It was also promoted on social media website Facebook.

The automaker is claiming best-in-class fuel economy, improved driving dynamics and a rotary dial operated terrain management, industry-first inflatable rear seat belts and the latest MyFord Touchdriver connect technology and Sync integrated communications and entertainment system.

Ford is stressing fuel economy, claiming V6 models should deliver over 20% better fuel economy than the 2010 model, "shattering conventional expectations for SUV fuel efficiency" while the optional two-litre I4 engine - from the EcoBoost family also being rolled out here in Europe, should boost economy by over 30%, beating rivals such as the 2010 Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander V6.

Chief nameplate engineer Jim Holland said the team targeted two key objectives when developing the 2011 Explorer.

“It had to look modern and contemporary – inside and out – yet be instantly recognisable as an Explorer,” said Holland. “Next, the new Explorer needed to deliver the fuel economy today’s customers want, combined with the performance, capability and empowerment they expect from an SUV.”

Among the economy-boosting tweaks are twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT), the EcoBoost engine availability, six-speed automatic transmissions, electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) to reduce parasitic power loss, intelligent four-wheel drive, variable-displacement air-conditioning compressor, tyres optimised for reduced rolling resistance and 'slippery' aerodynamics with harmonised front air dam and rear liftgate spoiler. 

While adding significant content to the vehicle, engineers were able to reduce total vehicle weight by almost 100lb (45kg) through the use of lighter materials such as an aluminum bonnet.

The turbocharged and intercooled EcoBoost engine develops 237 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 250lb ft of torque from 1,700 through 4,000 rpm. It has direct petrol injection, variable valve timing, direct-acting mechanical bucket valve lifters and four valves a cylinder.

The standard powertrain combines front wheel drive with a 3.5 litre V6 developing 290hp and 255 lb ft. With a six-speed automatic transmission, this engine is expected to improve fuel economy around 20% compared with the 2010 model.

V6 models will be available with a Land Rover-like intelligent 4WD system that adds terrain management. A console-mounted knob has snow, sand, mud and normal modes and the system also includes a hill descent setting.

"Simpler and more convenient for SUV veterans, the system will be a confidence-builder for drivers new to the segment," Ford said. 

The unibody SUV has the world’s first second-row inflatable rear belts. Rear seat passengers – often children or mature passengers – can be more vulnerable to head, chest and neck injuries and the inflatable rear belts spread impact forces across more than five times the area than conventional seat belts, reducing pressure on the chest while helping to control head and neck motion. Belt comfort should also help increase usage rates. Studies show inflatable belts to be more comfortable for passengers due to padding, according to Ford.

Standard safety equipment includes stability control, side seat and curtain airbags, child safety seat mounts and tyre pressure monitoring. Options include adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support and a blind spot warning system with cross traffic alert.

Ford said the shift to unibody from body on frame construction platform enabled a reduction in road noise and significantly decreased body roll when cornering situations. Independent front suspension is short and long arm configuration with a 32mm front stabilszer bar. Independent rear suspension is the SR1 configuration, so-named for its one-to-one shock absorber ratio, which enables precise ride control.

The adoption of electric power steering allowed curve control to be added; this new feature senses when a driver enters a turn too quickly and applies brake pressure to stabilise the vehicle.

It also allows the new optional active park assist technology which scans for a suitable spot, calculates the trajectory, and steers the vehicle. The driver continues to control brake and throttle inputs but the system steers the vehicle throughout the parking manoeuvre.

Production of the 2011 Explorer begins at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant ahead of sales starting next winter.