Nuts and Bolts: 2011 Ford Explorer XLT

Sunday, January 9, 2011; 4:00 AM

Bottom line: The rebirth of the Explorer represents the rebirth of the mass-market midsize sport-utility vehicle, and it's likely to become the halo model of a born-again Ford.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent marks in all three.

Head-turning quotient: The new Explorer can be parked in any politically correct driveway without fear of opprobrium or other reprisal. Even avowed SUV haters conceded that this one looks good.

Body style/layout: The new Explorer is a work of car-like unitized-body construction. It is a front-engine, five-door (rear tailgate) vehicle available with front-wheel or full-time four-wheel drive. There are three trim levels - Base, XLT (the "popularly equipped" model driven for this column and the luxury Limited.

Engine/transmission: The 2011 Explorer comes with a standard 3.5-liter, double-overhead-cam 24-valve V-6 (290 horsepower, 255 foot-pounds of torque). It is mated to a six-speed transmission that can be used automatically or manually.

Capacities: There are seats for up to seven people. Middle seats have a 60-40 fold-down split. Third-row seats have a 50-50 split. Cargo capacity with middle and rear seats raised is 21 cubic feet. With middle and rear seats folded, cargo capacity is 80.7 cubic feet. The Explorer XLT can be outfitted to pull a trailer weighing 5,000 pounds. The fuel tank holds 18.6 gallons of gasoline (regular is recommended).

Mileage: I averaged 23 miles a gallon in mostly highway driving in the four-wheel-drive Explorer XLT.

Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with anti-lock protection; electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; side, head and third-row air bags; rear inflatable seat belts; dusk sensing headlamps; and tire-pressure monitoring. There also is an array of optional safety equipment, including blind-side and cross-traffic monitoring, which can avoid crashes caused by errant lane changes or by backing into moving traffic. This column highly recommends both blind-side and cross-traffic monitoring.

Price: The base price of the 2011 Ford Explorer XLT with four-wheel drive is $31,190. Dealer's invoice price on that model is $29,178. Price as tested is $31,845, including $540 for Ford's Class III trailer-towing package and an $805 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $29.855.

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