After patiently sitting through Ford Motor Company's look-but-don't-drive preview, we doubted whether the car-based 2011 Explorer really deserved its name. Seeing as the new Explorer shares much with FoMoCo's D-platform (Taurus/Flex/Lincoln MKS/MKT), perhaps Ford's naming committee should have chosen something less adventurous, such as Taurus X, Freestyle, or the long retired Country Squire.
"Drifting Don" Ufford convinced me otherwise. Riding shotgun, your author watched Explorer's chief engineer flog his team's crossover through deep sand and along rutted desert trails that would have stopped a typical crossover dead.
Ufford came by the Drifting Don moniker naturally, given the desert location south of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where Ford held the final HVAC and all-wheel-drive system durability testing. Ufford told MT, "The area we're testing in is frequented by the locals in the cooler months. Nobody's dumb enough to come out here now; it's too hot. But in the winter they picnic here and run their 4x4s across the desert. One of their favorite activities is dune surfing."
On cue, Ufford arced the Explorer down into a 100-yard-wide bowl of sand. Dropping about two stories, Ufford blasted across the bottom to shoot up the other side. The Explorer bit in, then responded to Ufford's steering input. Ufford traversed the opposite incline, tempting a rollover. With the nose pointed slightly uphill, the Explorer "surfed" a nearly horizontal path around the upper edge of the bowl, dramatically throwing out four rooster tails of sand.
Midway through this dynamic bit of driving, Ufford asked an engineer in the back seat to report temperatures on the power take-off unit (PTO), rear driveline clutch, and rear differential. Although we were having fun, Ufford and company continued to focus on the durability testing.