The 2011 Ford Explorer has been redesigned from bottom to top, inside and out, to reflect a contemporary vision of what customers today want in a modern 4WD utility vehicle.
“Ford has changed everything about the all-new Explorer, yet it’s still instantly and instinctively recognisable as a Ford Explorer,” said Moray Callum, executive director of North America Design. “We believe that’s because it’s a contemporary interpretation of the same capabilities Explorer has always stood for, without compromise.”
“The all-new Explorer combines bold, evocative design language with a wind-and noise-cheating aerodynamic shape on a rigid unibody platform,” said Melvin Betancourt, design manager. “Explorer has the height, stance and SUV cues that clearly indicate its capabilities.”
The Explorer design team was challenged with reinterpreting the segment-defining icon as a modern, contemporary 4WD utility vehicle for the 21st century.
“The new Explorer starts with proportions and stance,” Betancourt said. “Its agile, fluid lines combine with the muscular toned sheet metal, delivering athletic good looks and unsurpassed aerodynamics. The liftgate spoiler lip and the flexible lower air dam – integrated into the fascia – harmonize to provide wind tunnel-proven fuel economy. Blackened rockers lift the eye, denoting Explorer’s rugged four-wheel-drive capability and driver empowerment.”
Strong, body-color C-pillars and blackened D-pillars are traditional Explorer cues, while the blackened A-pillars and B-pillars provide a fresh new wraparound daylight opening.
Explorer’s design is connected to Ford brand DNA through wheel flares inspired by the current Mustang and a body-side undercut that follows current Taurus design protocol, Betancourt explained. “Up front, Explorer has a new interpretation of the Ford signature three-bar grille. Below the bumper, the Ford DNA trapezoidal lower grille provides visual continuity across Ford vehicles on the showroom floor.”
Standard roof rack, rounded corners, shorter overhang, and aggressive wheels and tires provide the rugged cues that customers recognize in an SUV.
From the rear, LED stop lamps glow from the jewel-like taillamp cluster. The Explorer name projects from the rear liftgate appliqué.
Inside Explorer: Soft touches and upscale seating for seven
As with the exterior, the Explorer interior design brief was to modernize, making soft-touch surfaces and occupant comfort key priorities. A goal was to make the Explorer interior a three-row medium for the technology, convenience and connectivity it contains, while inspiring driver confidence in dynamic driving on any road, anytime, anywhere.
The feeling of the interior is one of an upscale, premium vehicle, from the choice of materials to the high levels of fit-and-finish.
“Make it look expensive: That was my goal for the new Explorer interior,” said Mike Arbaugh, interior studio manager. “This is a vehicle that challenges higher-end SUVs so the interior design, craftsmanship and fit-and-finish should play in that league.”
The new Explorer interior package is a best-of-both-worlds approach, combining premium European design cues – imparting a sense of driving dynamics – with a sophisticated and uniquely American familiarity. The graceful, seamless flow from instrument panel into the doors and the forward-leaning center stack reflect the sporty, European theme while the command seating position bestows the sense of security so important to SUV buyers.
The Explorer interior package also reflects the latest iteration of Ford DNA storage thoughtfully arranged throughout the cabin, including clever spaces for everything active families like to take along.
Instrument and door panels all reflect soft-touch surfaces, making the Explorer interior environment more pleasing from both aesthetic and tactile perspectives. Cloth interior surfaces – including the black headliner – are comprised of 25 percent recycled content. Seating foam from environmentally friendly soy-based content helps Explorer keep it green.
“The modern design, soft-touch surfaces and chrome accents harmonize to give the new Explorer an upscale aura we think customers will really appreciate in a three-row, fully capable 4WD vehicle,” said Arbaugh. “The media hub and MyFord Touch™ driver connect technology not only reflects SUV buyer lifestyles, it enhances them.”
The new Explorer elevates the importance of SUV fit-and-finish. Explorer is the most exported North American nameplate in the Ford brand portfolio. To that end, the new Explorer was designed and developed to exceed not only North American standards, but global standards for the execution of interior surfaces and the absence of protruding edges.
Meeting these global standards called for tighter surface margin gaps and tolerances, equal to or better than Audi. While this presented some challenges for the interior design team, it also served to underpin the advance in Explorer interior craftsmanship and quality.
A global internal Ford craftsmanship and quality process was instituted with Explorer development, providing metrics and benchmarks to include better quality materials, with enhanced focus on how well interior and exterior parts come together.
Taken to new heights
As part of Ford’s global product development system, Explorer was subject to extreme testing while still in the virtual computer-aided design phase. Issues identified and addressed in the virtual realm help deliver a higher quality vehicle when prototype build begins. Then these running prototypes are tested and validated to ensure that the attributes targeted at the outset are delivered for customers.
The Explorer vehicle engineering team took prototypes over Colorado’s 13,114-foot Imogene Pass, buried them in deep sand in the California and UAE desert, carved through snow in Minnesota and Northern Michigan, traversed a slippery red clay mud bog in Alabama, and logged countless development and validation miles at both Arizona and Michigan proving grounds.
The goal: Deliver a durable, high-quality, fully capable and fuel-efficient utility vehicle for today’s customers in more than 90 countries around the world.
The all-new Explorer was designed and developed to deliver best-in-class levels of NVH control and to rival premium SUVs in quietness. Customer research told the Explorer development team that the interior of an SUV should be serene and soothing.
Explorer’s quiet ride began in the design phase. A unibody configuration with fewer parts means reduced opportunity for squeaks and rattles. The front bolster housing the radiator is one single component, whereas a key competitor requires 11 separate pieces to perform the identical function. In addition, Explorer features a hydroformed front structure to add strength, save weight and reduce NVH.
Explorer development employed NoiseVision technology and statistical modeling to optimise NVH balance. NoiseVision consists of a sphere with hundreds of tiny cameras and microphones that allow engineers to pinpoint individual sounds at various frequency bands. This enables isolation and correction of potential noises early in the process.
To provide a quiet ride, Explorer features acoustic-laminated glass, an acoustic headliner, a driver’s side hush panel, full-perimeter hood seal, underbelly pan, a lofted high-density hood insulator, mass-backed barrier carpet and mastic floor treatment. Inner-dash and tunnel insulators, a dash doubler, a spare tire carpet cover door, liftgate and pillar trim absorbers all contribute to interior quietness.
Statistical modeling was employed to tune Explorer sounds. Customers prefer some engine noise – upon acceleration, for example. This analytical measure helps engineers to balance eradication of unwanted sounds, yet accommodate for sounds that appeal to drivers.