$10,396 - $14,002

2011 Ford Explorer Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Ford Explorer was new.


Performance: 8.4

The 2011 Ford Explorer has performance that pleases reviewers. Handling is composed and steering is responsive, while power from the standard V6 engine is good. The Explorer is even rugged enough to handling light off-roading and can tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped.

  • "It drives well, gets good fuel economy for its class and still retains the versatility that made people like SUVs in the first place." -- Edmunds
  • "Having experienced the Expy over a wide variety of conditions, it's impossible not to be struck by how well-rounded a package it truly is." -- Autoblog

Acceleration and Power

Even though the 2010 Explorer offered a V8, reviewers say that buyers of the 2011 model won’t suffer for power, and they’ll be happier with the fuel economy.

The standard engine on the Explorer is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Later in 2011, Ford will introduce an optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine that will make 237 horsepower and 250 pound feet of torque.

The front-wheel drive Explorer with the V6 engine is rated at 17/25 mpg city/highway, which is not bad at all for an SUV that can seat seven. All-wheel drive models get slightly worse fuel economy, as the highway rating drops to 23 miles per gallon.

Fuel economy ratings aren’t available for the four-cylinder model, but Ford says it will improve on the 2010 models’ fuel economy by 30 percent.

Though only the V6 has been on test drives, reviewers say that power is ample, even if you’re used to a V8 Explorer. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, and reviewers say it works well.

  • "The V-6 engine is used in Taurus and a number of other Ford Motor vehicles, but felt much more responsive in Explorer. Pleasing song, smooth personality, snappy-shifting six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. Quite agreeable whether jumping up to highway speed, cruising or burbling through villages." -- USA Today
  • "Performance is solid, with 0 to 60 mph coming up in 7.5 seconds and the standing quarter-mile arriving in 16.0 seconds at 89 mph, both of which are quicker than a Pilot Touring and the last V-8 Explorer we tested." -- Car and Driver
  • "Though Explorer has one of the most powerful V6 engines in the class, it doesn't feel significantly quicker than other midsize SUVs. Rather, it builds power smoothly and steadily. Passing reserves are sufficient, and the transmission is well behaved." -- Consumer Guide

Handling and Braking

When it comes to handling, reviewers are impressed with the 2011 Ford Explorer. Since it now rides on a car platform, test drivers say the Explorer features a comfortable ride and competent maneuvering. Extra safety features, like Ford’s Curve Control system, can step in if you take a turn too fast, and available all-wheel drive makes the Explorer even easier to drive.

  • "Not quite as athletic as the pacesetting Mazda CX-9, but Explorer can more than hold its own on twisting roads. Its wide stance helps maintain good grip. Steering feel is on the light side, but it's quick to respond to desired changes in direction. Braking control is good, but it's marred by spongy pedal action." -- Consumer Guide
  • "As badly as some steering systems seem to be executed nowadays, it's worth calling attention to a setup that feels right. Ford uses electric power assist, which saves fuel by not putting as much drag on the engine. Felt just-so in Explorer." -- USA Today
  • "When driven back-to-back with a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Ford's handling course, the Explorer was at once more composed, quieter and confidence-inspiring." -- Autoblog
  • "Road and wind noise barely penetrates the cabin and we felt it had a newfound confidence as we cut the corners of freeway on-ramps and rounded sharp turns with the improved roll control that a unibody build brings." -- Left Lane News


Though it can’t handle the most rugged trails, reviewers say that its optional all-wheel drive system and terrain response systems are more than up to the tasks of rutted dirt roads, sandy trails and snowy roads.

The terrain response system gets special praise. Borrowed from Land Rover, the system lets you select the type of conditions you’re driving in: mud, sand, snow, or dry pavement. From there, the Explorer alters its responses, controlling power to all four wheels, so you get the most secure ride. Overall, reviewers say the system works very well.

  • "We expected a dumbed-down, dorkish replacement for a real off-road system -- the kind with a two-speed transfer case with four-wheel high and four-wheel low modes as you find in true boonies-mobiles. To our surprise, it seemed intelligently designed, easy to understand, quick and handy to use." -- USA Today
  • “Throughout the challenge, the Explorer faithfully scrabbled everywhere the 4Runner did, but with notably less head-toss from its four-wheel independent suspension and indeed, fewer creaks from its body structure." -- Autoblog
  • "With the ability to challenge snow, mud, sand and normal road conditions, we found the Explorer a very competent performer on light trails." -- Left Lane News


Since it’s no longer a body-on-frame SUV, the towing capacity on the 2011 Explorer is diminished compared with the 2010 model. Still, reviewers say the 5,000-pound maximum tow rating should be enough for most buyers. Just note that to get that maximum towing capacity, you need to get the V6 engine and optional trailer tow package, which adds $570 to the base price. With the four-cylinder engine, you can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

  • "Fully equipped, the new Explorer can tow 5000 pounds, down from the 7115-pound rating of the 2010 V-8 model. Towing capacity for the four-cylinder is 2000 pounds, enough to haul a Jet Ski or a snowmobile but not much more." -- Car and Driver
  • "For comparison's sake, a V8 Durango can actually haul substantially more at 7,400 pounds. Still, 5,000 pounds is more than enough to tote around a good-sized boat, and if you're really into towing huge loads, chances are you aren't looking at a mid-size sport utility anyhow." -- Autoblog

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