2011 Ford Explorer: Building Better Gas Mileage Into An SUV

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2011 Ford Explorer

2011 Ford Explorer

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If you're one of the 50 million Americans reached by Ford's marketing today, you'll know by now that the company launched a new 2011 Explorer sport utility.

High Gear has covered the 2011 Ford Explorer from pretty much every angle, including our post earlier today on some fuel-saving tricks  it picked up from its hybrid siblings, the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid.

But if you're reading Green Car Reports on the new Explorer, you're probably wondering more about its fuel efficiency.

The answer is that the 2011 Ford Explorer promises at least 30 percent better gas mileage than its 2010 predecessor.

It still won't be within a stone's throw of, say, the 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid, but the Prius doesn't offer seven seats, 7.9 inches of ground clearance, or all-wheel-drive with Terrain Control. Some families need those capabilities; many more simply want them.

V-6 standard, four optional

The 2011 Explorer offers two engine choices, but Ford has inverted the usual hierarchy.

The standard engine is a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, which Ford says puts out power equal to the previous model's optional 5.0-liter V-8.

Ford also says the new standard V-6 will have fuel economy 32 percent better, meaning approximately 18 or 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway versus the outgoing V-8's 14 and 19 mpg ratings in all-wheel-drive form.

When four equals six

The optional engine, however--and the one Ford will likely focus on--is a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four that puts out 237 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque.

That's as much power and torque as the 4.0-liter V-6 base engine in the previous Explorer, which in 4WD form returned even lower ratings--13 and 19 mpg--than the V-8.

The EcoBoost four, says Ford's global product development chief, Derrick Kuzak, will equal the fuel efficiency of some V-6 midsize sedans like the Toyota Camry. The non-hybrid version of the 2010 Toyota Camry is rated at 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.

A Ford marketing slogan seen during media previews last week also promised "better highway mileage than a Highlander Hybrid," which would mean a highway rating higher than 25 mpg.

Going out on a limb...

So our guesses are:

  • 2011 Ford Explorer with base 3.5-liter V-6 and four-wheel-drive:  19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
  • 2011 Ford Explorer with optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and four-wheel-drive: 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

If the 2011 Explorer with the four can return that kind of mileage, it will completely lay to rest the main reason that buyers who wanted an SUV ended up choosing another option: the lousy fuel economy.

We don't think the numbers have to be that high in relative terms, since buyers save far more money over the same distance traveled going from 14 to 20 mpg than they do going from 20 to 26 mpg. (MPG is a non-linear scale.) The Explorer's mileage ratings just have to be higher than its competitors'.

Squeezing out every drop

Both 2011 Explorer engines have twin independently timed overhead camshafts, a complexity that allows very fine tuning of the combustion cycles based on the power being demanded, to squeeze every last drop of unnecessary gasoline out of the process.

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