By Charles Krome
Okay, I’m calling Ford’s bluff. The all-new 2011 Ford Explorer, as impressive as it is, is simply not an SUV. Or maybe this is just what Ford means by “redefining” the segment.
Think about it this way: The classic definition of an SUV, although perhaps hard to pin down in its particulars, has long revolved around things like body-on-frame construction, towing capacity, off-road capabilities and (lack of) fuel efficiency. But it’s obvious from reading the Explorer press releases that Ford is working off a different vocabulary list. In fact, going through the marketing materials is a near-Orwellian experience.
Ford takes each of those elements, admits the new Explorer doesn’t have them in traditional SUV amounts, and then brazenly claims to be an SUV anyway. The company’s scribes even go the extra mile by claiming specifically that not having these elements makes the Explorer a better SUV.
Body-on-frame construction? Unnecessary, because (unlike body-on-frame vehicles?) the Explorer “targets top safety ratings with a stiff unibody structure.” Plus, “The shift to a unibody construction platform enabled a reduction in road noise and significantly decreased Explorer body roll in dynamic cornering situations.”
Towing capacity? Well, even though Ford’s group vice president for Global Product Development, Derrick Kuzak, says the Explorer is “the hands-down winner for towing capability,” its actual towing maximum is 5,000 lbs—2,115 fewer than the 2010 Explorer and 200 lbs fewer than the Chevrolet Traverse crossover.
Off-road capability? While I doubt too many people took previous Explorers on serious rock-crawling trips, the new model comes sans transfer case, swapping in a new terrain-management system that “takes the guesswork out of maximizing 4WD and the capabilities it enables.” Maybe, but doesn’t it also take some of the utility out of what’s supposed to be a sport-utility vehicle?
Finally, there’s the fuel-efficiency factor. I could take the low road here and joke about how the term “fuel-efficient SUV” is an oxymoron, but instead I’ll just point out when Ford PR is touting the new Explorer’s mileage, the vehicles used for comparison aren’t the Chevrolet Tahoe or Toyota 4Runner, they’re the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.
Now, I’m confident that the new Explorer will be a success, and it’s certainly as capable and efficient as any crossover on the market, if not more so. But Ford calling it an SUV is akin to an automaker deciding to put a new spin on convertibles by manufacturing them with fixed roofs. Or like a company attempting to redefine the word “coupe” to include cars with four doors.
Okay, forget that last one, but consider: What would the reaction have been if Toyota had come out with the same kind of vehicle as the new Explorer and unapologetically called it an SUV?