Review: Is the 2011 Ford Explorer good enough for ‘Smelly Toddler?’


The 2012 Ford Explorer is a major departure from the Explorer of yesteryear. I’ve never been a fan of the previous Explorer as it consumed like a full size vehicle while not providing quite enough space. I’m not the only one who had issues; Ford’s sales of the Explorer severely dropped off over the past few years.

Rather than reinvent the Explorer as a small truck, again, they opted for something completely different. The 2012 Ford Explorer became a crossover. This was a risky move for Ford and I applaud their cajónes – they truly went for something new.

Usually, when I test a family vehicle, I bring my rug-rats along for the ride. Trust me; my kids are just as messy and destructive as yours. So, as a test barometer, my booger-wipers do an excellent job. What was labeled as “Stinky Baby” and evolved into “Smelly Toddler” and this creature puts every vehicle I test to task.

With the advent of a crossover setup, Ford no longer needs quite as much floor space dedicated to beefy underpinnings. This makes way for a very useable 80.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. It’s not best in class – but it works well for families. When all three rows are used, there’s plenty of space in all but the third row. The way-back is perfect for older children needing space from their smelly kin.


My favorite part of the new Ford Explorer is its exterior design. Somehow, Ford designers managed to cross the essence of the old Explorer with a hint of F-150 and Taurus. It looks bold and comes second only to the Dodge Durango. It’s still macho and is easily identified as noted by Smelly Toddler who said, “Truck” the moment the Explorer was first seen.

The 290 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 makes 255 lbs-feet of torque and feels like plenty of power from the seat of your pants. Power is instant and the shifting done by the excellent 6-speed automatic is very smooth. Maximum towing is 5,000 lbs, which is par for the course.  I recorded 0 to 60 mph times in the “4X4” at about 8.7 seconds. This was done at over 5,200 feet and is impressive for a vehicle of this size. In fairly aggressive driving, I averaged about 19 mpg combined which is, once again, impressive for a vehicle this size at high altitude.

The nifty 4-cylinder EcoBoost 2.0 liter makes 237 horsepower and 250 lbs-feet of torque. Word is; with this setup, which is only available in front-wheel drive (FWD), the Ford Explorer can get up to 28 mpg on the highway. For what is largely a Taurus FWD wagon, that is outstanding.

Handling is acceptable, but the steering feel is nonexistent. For most people, an SUV/crossover doesn’t need ‘feel’ and that’s fine. After driving the toss-able Dodge Durango – I like knowing what the front wheels are doing. Body lean is definitely present, but it is not too bad for the class. Just avoid high speed corners.


Ford has stated in the past that the off road abilities of the Explorer are more than adequate. I specifically requested one for a Rocky Mountain driving event where its competitors were put to the test off road, but Ford declined. Oh well. At least I can say with absolute certainty that Smelly Toddler loved the Explorer’s ride, whisper quiet cabin and cozy climate control. That’s saying something. 

Ford tried to stay bold and unique with their audio/navigation/climate-control/communications system. Ford’s Sync multimedia system has Bluetooth mobile phone interface, audio system and navigation that can be voice operated. It works, but you need to take a full day to master each section of Ford’s Sync – seriously.  Ford’s updated Sync promises to be far more user friendly.

Here’s my issue with the current Sync: Ford seems to have forgotten a major obstacle for parents using anything voice activated – smartass kids.

Upon realizing how easy it is to befuddle poppa when he speaks for no reason, Smelly Toddler cohort in crime, “But-Why-Not,” yell and cheer EVRY time big poppa tries a *%&#@ command.

After trying (unsuccessfully) to demonstrate Ford Sync to the spouse or “She-who-must-be-obeyed” for the fifth time… 

Poppa: “Shush! I mean it!”

But-Why-Not & Smelly Toddler: “Okay daddy”

Poppa (after pushing the steering wheel “voice” button): “Radio Disn….”

But-Why-Not & Smelly Toddler: “AHHHHH! HA – HA, YEE-HA! DADDY SILLY!”

Poppa: “Damn-it!”

Ford Sync: “What was that? For a list of available commands…”

But-Why-Not & Smelly Toddler: “Daddy funny!”
Ford Sync: “What was that?”

Poppa: “Auggggghhhh!”


With a base price around $28,000 the Ford Explorer is a competent, comfortable family hauler that gives you some of the best tech for the money. Spend about 45 big-ones and you’ll have a very well appointed, luxury level Explorer. It truly is a bold step for Ford and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a great family car.

Smelly Toddler agrees.

As for me? The 2011 Ford Explorer comes in 3rd behind the Mazda CX9 and, my personal favorite, the 2011 Dodge Durango.

Nathan Automotive media, racing, vehicle evaluation, wrecking yards, and car sales are just a part of Nathan Adlen’s vehicular past. He writes out of high octane passion! To read more reviews by Nathan Adlen or just to enjoy more of excellent writing please visit him on at his page HERE.

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