Yes, the towing capacity drops from the old truck's range of 5115-7115 to 2000-5000 pounds, so devotees of the big Airstream International campers will have to bump up to an Expedition. And no amount of electrickery will coax this all-wheel-drive system up and over the rocks an old Explorer was technically capable of scaling. But the truth is that the days when 400,000 people would buy a vehicle with those capabilities (most of whom never needed them) are gone, and the buyers flocked in droves to the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. This is the vehicle Ford hopes will lure those folks back.

The bodywork itself stretches 3.7 inches longer and 5.2 inch wider, while standing almost two inches shorter. The wheelbase is 1.1 inch shorter and the 67-inch track width is 5.2-6.1 inches broader. Inside, there's 5.1 cubic feet more passenger space, but 3.0 cubes less overall cargo volume with all seats folded. If you opt for the sunroof, headroom reductions bring the passenger space down to even with the old truck. The standard third-row seat (with optional power folding) is considerably narrower than the previous model's, but boasts a welcome 0.4 inch more headroom. My 5-foot-10-inch frame fits comfortably enough to ride a modest distance in the way back, which bodes well for the Explorer's aptitude as a cross-country road-trip-mobile for larger families with teens. Optional Sony sound and MyFord Touch will further enhance the quality of life inside the Explorer. The latter, which is already rolling out in other Ford and Lincoln products is a cutting-edge user-interface, which permits control of myriad phone, nav, entertainment, and climate by your choice of simple, conversational voice, via steering-wheel five-way controller buttons, or by touch-screen. The Sync system will also feature a Do Not Disturb feature to block incoming calls or texts when desired. Addresses can be sent to your car using Google's "Send to Sync" feature, and Sirius Travel Link will even read you your horoscope, stock prices, or sports scores.

The design is dominated by the fairly carlike three-bar grille and prominent body-color C-pillar, which is emphasized by the blacked-out A-, B-, and D-pillars. There are surprisingly few styling cues directly connecting this vehicle with its predecessor, but when the brand enjoys (a reported) 96 percent name recognition, with 140,000 Explorer customers returning to the dealership each year, Ford may have the luxury of making a clean break and moving forward. Interior design is simple, straightforward, and (on the high-spec models displayed) of apparently high-quality execution.