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Auto manufacturers like to tout their redesigns. The makeover language is always laden with positive information, never alluding that the previous model might have somehow been lacking in one area or another.

The folks at Ford are no different. Naturally the company wants to distance itself from the Firestone tire debacle and subsequent rollover problems that sent Explorer sales plummeting a decade ago. Once at the top of the heap, the Explorer became a mostly forgotten sport utility vehicle in recent years.

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Hoping to make a statement with the 2011 model, Ford succeeded with its full redesign. The current Explorer has been warmly received as a capable SUV that has addressed problems that led to its demise.

One will quickly notice that the current Explorer no longer feels like a truck. The Explorer is still big and features three rows of seating, making it a seven-passenger SUV. Despite the size, it now drives smoother because it possesses a lighter, car-like quality due to the unibody construction that was borrowed from the Ford Flex.

Although an Explorer equipped with four-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard) can still provide some offroad adventure, it’s not a plodder in regular driving situations. Don’t worry about the cornering and the rollover possibility because the Explorer will handle those challenging situations just fine with its responsive steering. It’s comforting to know that the Explorer is equipped with Ford’s Curve Control, technology that reduces vehicle speed when it senses the vehicle is going too fast around a corner.

The Explorer can still provide power, evidenced by its towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. Although no V8 resides in its lineup, the standard 3.5-liter, V6 with 290 horsepower is more efficient than previous models.

There are other noticeable differences in the new Explorer. Gas mileage is one area. Offered in three trims – base, XLT and Limited (Eddie Bauer model is gone) – the Explorer gets 17-23 mpg, which is typical for this class.

This redesign certainly addressed the Explorer’s interior issues as well. It’s now high quality with some tech features that will please the masses. The dash is made of soft touch material. Cabin room has been added, the seating is comfortable for the first two rows (third row is limiting), cargo space is ample, and there are a number of good storage areas. The optional MyFord Touch has drawn mixed reviews, so be careful making that purchase.

Given the opportunity, the newly redesigned Explorer should be considered when shopping for an SUV that can haul seven people and do it with grace, power and reliability.

2011 Ford Explorer

Performance: 3.5-liter, V6, 290 horsepower
Mileage estimate: 17-23 mpg
Price: $28,360 to $37,535

Standard features include: privacy glass; roof rails; six-way power driver seat (manual recline); stability and traction control, including Ford’s Curve Control; tire pressure monitor; center console; rear defogger; trailer sway control

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