Safety is a priority with customers in the segment (and a potential sensitive spot where the Explorer name is concerned), so Ford is leaving no acronym out. There's AdvanceTrak with Roll Stability Control, Trailer Sway Mitigation, and Curve Control; optional collision warning with brake support (when collision is predicted, the brakes apply as soon as the driver lifts off the accelerator); Blind-Spot Information System; plus a full complement of airbags including optional inflatable rear seatbelts that greatly improve safety of kids in booster seats, providing head and neck protection and reducing belt loading on small bones. Ford's MyKey parental-control device is standard, and the body is composed of twice as much high-strength steel, including boron steel reinforcement of the A- and B-pillars.

Ford engineers swear the Explorer can venture farther off road than most customers would ever dare, thanks to the four-position Terrain Management System (developed entirely in-house, with no Land Rover input) and Hill-Descent Control. The Snow setting calls up a very languid throttle response and orders early upshifts to prevent wheelspin. In Sand mode, you need to keep the wheels turning to prevent bogging down, so the throttle map is aggressive, the shift schedule holds lower during low-speed maneuvers, with delayed upshifts when backing out of the throttle and firmer shift feel in 3-2 and 2-1 downshifts. The Mud and Ruts mode is similar to sand, but less extreme, with much less traction control and yaw-stability intervention. Bottom line: High-range gearing, ground clearance, and all-season tires mean today's explorers had better stick to the well-beaten trails in this crossover.

Being Taurus-based, the new Explorer will be built alongside it and the Lincoln MKS on the same assembly line in Chicago, which will add a second shift in November to accommodate the extra demand. It's hoped this bodes well for initial quality, as JD Power & Associates survey data rates the Taurus and Lincoln MKS quite highly. Ford's quality team has been sweating details like 3.4mm panel gaps, 1.5mm-radii on parts that meet, for extra flush fascia/fender joints, body sealing against wind and road noise, etc.

Will Americans be willing to dig deep for the luxury of driving a two-ton 2.0-liter? No executives on hand at the reveal would guess at the model mix for EcoBoost, but I'd counsel against charging very much for it (or counting on it making a huge contribution to Ford's truck CAFE). Watch for that engine to end up in a front-drive Taurus sedan and for the SHO's EcoBoost V-6 to find its way into a range-topping Explorer. On paper, the new Explorer seems dressed for success, with most of the right stuff--quality, safety, and efficiency--to lure some business back from Honda and Toyota. Stay tuned this fall to learn whether the metal fulfills the paper potential.