Testing the chassis changes, Ufford took on some big off-road obstacles. Several demanded the crossover's entire length of suspension travel, and then some. The new jounce bumpers controlled the energy so there was no unpleasant metal-to-metal/suspension-to-chassis crashes.

Ford knows that buyers won't compare the 2011 Explorer to the new Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota FJ Cruiser. Certainly, the Explorer couldn't begin to keep up with these purposefully engineered off-roaders. What Ford seems to be delivering is a more capable crossover that can make it in places most crossovers can't. The Explorer remains limited by the lack of a two-speed transfer case and its rather modest approach and departure angles.

On-road, the 2011 Explorer proved less of a surprise: You expect a crossover to handle pavement with the same acumen as a standard passenger car. From the right front seat, the ride was quiet and well-damped. While the latter characteristic was expected, I wondered about the quietness as we drove out of the desert and back to Ford's Dubai service garages.

Typically, beat-on pre-production prototypes tend to have more road and wind noise than full production vehicles. Plus, prototypes tend to squeak and rattle. Our particular vehicle was also lacking the front-passenger side inner fender well. It was ripped from its mounts before my eyes during one particularly enthusiastic dune-bashing romp.

Even in its compromised condition, at modest highway speeds our test Explorer seemed quiet. Admittedly, the roads into Dubai were straight and smooth, and because of numerous speed cameras, Ufford kept our speeds down. Stay tuned for a full road test later this year.

While enjoying the air conditioning at the Ford garage, MT asked Ufford if this testing actually benefited the Explorer. He said his team identified cooling system issues that would benefit all markets, and that Dubai's fine sand composition helped with the final tuning of the Terrain Management system.

Terrain Management…now that's a feature you'd never find on a Country Squire.