Ford's Explorer America concept -- a possible future vision of what Ford's fallen SUV king could become -- will be revealed to the world at the upcoming 2008 Detroit Auto Show. Ford says the forward-looking concept was designed to address the changes in the SUV market over the past 15 years, from rugged off-roaders to civilized suburban people haulers.
This is exemplified in Explorer America's unibody construction, which limits the vehicle's off-road ability and towing capability over the present-day Explorer. Its large wheels and mammoth grille make it appear much tougher than it actually is. It lacks a B-pillar and the rear doors slide back like they would in a minivan -- interesting stuff, although neither detail would likely to make it to production if the Explorer America got that far.
The rear glass wraps around the D-pillars, increasing visibility and the amount of light that enters the three-row, six-person vehicle. The interior is similar to most recent Ford concepts, with a futuristic minimalism theme employed. Access to the third row is enabled by stackable, sliding seats, a work table and seats built into the tailgate. A 3-D compass and navigation unit complete with a topographical map is built into the instrument panel.
The concept is also a demonstration platform of sorts for Ford's new EcoBoost family of engines. Formerly known as TwinForce (and seen at last year's Detroit show in the Lincoln MKR Concept), the EcoBoost engines provide the power of larger engines while achieving 20-30 percent gains in fuel-economy, according to the automaker. Initially, this family will consist of a 2.0-liter inline-four making 275 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, and a 3.5-liter V-6 expected to make some 340 horsepower and over 340 lb-ft of torque.
The EcoBoost engines use a combination of direct-injection and turbocharging to provide the power of a larger engine (Ford likens the turbo-four to a V-6 and the turbo-six of a V-8). Today, the Explorer is powered by an aging 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 210 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque and a 4.6-liter V-8 that makes just 292 horsepower and 300 lb-ft -- meager numbers in the age of 270 horsepower Camrys and Accords.
Mated to the EcoBoost engine in the Explorer America is an advanced six-speed automatic transmission that allows the driver to select and hold a gear with the turn of a dial via a feature called auto shift control. The concept also features electric power steering; a feature that Ford says will be standard equipment on 80-90 percent of Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles by 2012. As for EcoBoost, it remains on track to be launched in the 2009 Lincoln MKS. Ford hopes to have half a million EcoBoost-powered vehicles on the road by 2013.