After spending several hours in the desert, it was clear the Explorer was not simply a re-skinned Flex. The powertrain had the ability to slog through deep sand and over obstacles that would foil traditional crossovers such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander, or Kia Sportage. Unlike these vehicles, the Explorer's PTO can deliver power to the rear axle continuously and at all speeds. Typical systems can overheat when used off-road and/or disengage over certain speeds. Furthermore, while the rear differential is an open unit, individual rear brake application makes the entire assembly work as if the unit is a limited-slip.

As important, Ford's Terrain Management software package is tuned to add useful performance, not discourage it. In the Sand mode (there are also modes for snow and mud, as well as normal pavement), it provided aggressive throttle response and held the vehicle in lower gears longer, making it easier to stay on top of the sand instead of sinking in.

Proving the team's experience off-road, the Sand mode also controlled the response of the engine as the driver lifted off the throttle. In Sand, power reduces gradually to help the Explorer maintain its momentum, preventing the wheels from literally stopping in their tracks and pushing the sand like four snow shovels. The Sand mode also allows for the increased vehicle yaw that is a normal part of driving in such conditions. Ufford explained that the vehicle's anti-roll control was still functional, so if a rollover seemed imminent, Ford's Advance Trac would activate and calm things down.