Another aspect worth noting is that the vehicle weighs less than the one it's replacing by about 100 pounds. Some of that weight savings cleverly comes from the fact the new Explorer has a fuel tank almost five gallons smaller than the previous one, due in large part to space restrictions, but because the new vehicle is much more fuel efficient (meaning no old V-8), it doesn't need the capacity. That should save the vehicle about 35 pounds right there. Naturally that too will help with fuel economy; however, even with the smaller tank, it still has a slightly better overall range than the one it replaces. And if you look at the numbers, this new Explorer will carry a touch more payload while holding a touch less cubic cargo. Again, we didn't get the chance to load our test vehicle to capacity or get a few hundred pounds in the rear trunk area. We'll have to save that for a later date as well.

As much as styling is determined by personal tastes, we think the new exterior look is a homerun. It looks both fast and efficient and makes the vehicle look much more imposing and substantial. Blacking out the A- and B-pillars, and canting forward the C-pillar creates a good look for a vehicle competing with many bloated and overinflated competitors. And if the outside is a homerun, the only way to describe the interior is a grand slam. Materials, touch-points, adjoining seams, and the overall layout sets a new standard for Ford. Maybe that sounds like we're over-reaching but it's been a long time since we've seen a Ford interior that didn't make it easy to find where they decided to cut costs. Add to that the push Ford is making to lead every segment in safety and Sync-ability and you begin to see where the biggest of the new Explorer strengths lay. All Explorers have a dizzying array of stability and traction control systems (that even proactively intervene during predicted understeer situations--called Curve Control), as well as an industry first standard front and second row seat-belt airbags. Inside and out, there is plenty that impressed us here.

Ford says this vehicle has been reinvented in order to more closely provide exactly what their customers want now. After much clinic-ing and group research, new Explorer buyers want to tow less, go off-road less, deal with the rough ride less, want more safety features, and prioritize fuel economy ahead of all else, but still want all the creature comforts of a comfy family hauler. Our guess is that this new Explorer will hit that bull's eye dead center and likely blow a hole clean through the target. Whether or not the shrinking segment will bring in new buyers or the Explorer will cannibalize Flex and Edge sale remains to be seen. But be clear--this new Explorer is a strong example of an OE giving intenders just enough of what they think they need. Sure there's enough "connectivity" options to make a computer geek pee his pants, but for those who want to work hard and play hard with their SUV and care more about "just in case" rather than "just enough", there may be better choices.

Buyers will have three models this year with the Base, XLT, and Limited pricing starting at $28,995, $31,995, and $37,995 (excluding destination), respectively. And look for the EcoBoost option for 2012 models. However, we'd expect Ford to roll out some interesting upper-crust options later on as well. For what it is, it's not a bad price to value ratio and it should give the competition all they can handle. We can't wait to get one in and test the snot out of it and see. Stay tuned.