SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Ford has sold six million Explorers since launching in 1990, two-thirds of which are still on the road today. Now in its fifth generation, the latest version has been completely reinvented for 2011 and it's more versatile and less urban than both its Edge and Flex crossover cousins. Available in base, XLT or Limited trims with FWD or 4WD, the 2011s starts at $29,999. Though still considered a midsize SUV, it's six inches wider, seven inches longer and sits about three inches closer to terra firma versus the outgoing model. It's also got 80 more horses, improved fuel economy, a standard third row and 124 litres of storage volume, plus more standard features than before, all for about a grand more over the previous model. The interior is more spacious and, of course, more modern and, because the wheels are pushed out to the corners more, the new Explorer has plenty of ground clearance for moderate to difficult off-road excursions. The 3.5-litre V6 makes 290 hp and 255 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic that promises 12.5 and 8.8 L/100km (city/ highway, respectively). Driving a fully loaded 4WD Limited ($44,199 as tested) for a day in canyon country around San Diego County, I managed just 17.7 L/100 km displayed - not exactly stellar, but understandable given the tricky terrain. A four-cylinder EcoBoost engine is due out next year and ought to get better fuel economy, though it won't likely be able to tow the 2,268 kilos at which the V6 models are rated. The V6's powerband could be a bit more robust and perhaps more linear, but the electric-assisted power steering is absolutely superb - direct and responsive with good on-centre feel and feedback. Explorer's overall driving dynamics are quite impressive The BMW X6 Hybrid is one of those vehicles that to my mind make a lot of sense because it allows people who like or need big vehicles to drive them in an environmentally sensible way. Whether some in society like it or not, the gasoline fed internal combustion engine is not going away any time soon (I know, I know - "not with dinosaurs such as you thinking that way it isn't" - heard it all before!) and many (a) like the security of driving a large vehicle, or (b) need a large vehicle in order to tow recreational toys, and (c) can't always afford to buy a second smaller fuel efficient vehicle for their daily commutes while having the (a) vehicle for their (b) needs. So, you start applying the ever more efficient hybrid technology to the large pickups and sport-utilities these people want and need. I think it makes much more sense than applying 5.0 litre per 100 km technology to a compact that already averages 6.0 (yeah, yeah ... every litre counts; heard that one, too). Despite the finesse which BMW wishes to instill in the X6 by naming it a "sports activity coupe," it's a brute of a sport utility vehicle and not a terribly useful one because the low slung roof is constrictive on several levels; getting in and out of the rear seats is a challenge due to the small opening; sitting back there is tight on the heads of taller passengers; and, the cargo area that already doesn't have an abundance of floor space now is also vertically challenged (usually one of the selling features of utility vehicles). Add it all up and it doesn't make for ready transportation of passengers and cargo, since you'll have to sacrifice one for the other (something too, travelling though corners flat and predictably. Its already excellent body roll control is bolstered by Ford's new curve control system that will automatically apply the brakes when it senses you're going too fast into a corner (so you don't slide off the road on the outside of a turn). Although there's no shift shock, the gearbox did hunt around on some of the longer uphills, even those with a slight gradient. It does stay in the right gear on steeper inclines though, and the ride is absurdly quiet, comfortable and very stable. The halfway point on our drive route is where the Explorer's offroad prowess is put to the test on what can only be described as an expert off-road course complete with steep ascents, steeper descents, a mud hole and all kinds of other obstacles willing and able to tear apart lesser vehicles. About the only thing missing is a rock garden, which is fine as the Explorer doesn't have any rock crawling abilities whatsoever. The hill descent control feature works amazingly well. Part of Ford's new terrain management system, the big SUV safely navigates down a 30-degree slope no less than 50 yards long without my foot even touching the brake pedal. Other terrain modes are available (snow, sand, mud and ruts) at the twist of the dial on the centre console, which looks like it came straight out of a Range Rover. Speaking of which, the new Explorer bears a certain resemblance to the forthcoming Rover Evoque. The power bulge hood gives it a more aggressive look and the whole assembly is not usually found on sport utes that don't have third row seats). Seating accommodations are cozy and supportive all around, even though rear passengers also don't have a lot of knee room. It's definitely a cabin meant to support people during aggressive driving (something that sort of flies against the goal of owning a hybrid), although it's in keeping with the BMW Performance philosophy. When you consider the hybrid is added to a 400 hp twin turbo V8, it shouldn't come as a sur- 12% more aerodynamic. As eluded to, the new interior is in line with the rest of Ford's latest offerings, sharing such technologies as MyKey, Sync 2.0 and a host of safety features like blind spot monitoring, adaptive prise the net figures are pushed to nearly equal those of the M version of the X6, although it's considerably better in fuel economy. You wouldn't expect any BMW to not accelerate and drive extremely well, and even a hybrid version doesn't disappoint. Weighing in some 190 kg (420 lbs.) more than the V8 version and 165 more than the M, you know this X6 is going to be hunkered down. And since the suspension is the same as the X6 50i, you get equally adept cruise control and industry-first inflatable rear seatbelts (second row only). The third row sits in a recessed floor that allows for a completely flat cargo area. The new Explorer can go almost anywhere and do almost handling that puts some sports sedans to shame. I find this Hybrid system much better than the one in the 7 (which isn't a "true" hybrid), with the ability to crawl along on electric power when I'm just trolling for a parking space or accelerating between traffic lights in the city. Electric power is stored in batteries underneath the cargo floor just behind the rear seats (a space I take it would otherwise occupy a spare or hidden storage). Now, the neat part is that Thursday, December 16, 2010


2011 Ford Explorer

Exploring the great wide open

SHAUN KEENAN QMI Agency Now in its fifth generation, the latest version of the Ford Explorer has been completely reinvented for 2011 and it's more versatile and less urban than both its Edge and Flex crossover cousins. anything. The biggest differences are its size, technologies and the improved driving dynamics, meaning it can do even more than before. shaun@keenink.com


2011 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

Hybrid for the recreationally intended

Joe Duarte


Shaun Keenan


JOE DUARTE QMI Agency The 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 retails at a starting price of $99,900. Both the hybrid and M versions start at that price allowing the consumer to pick between economy and power. you'll spend just as much for the Hybrid as you will for the M version - both start at $99,900 - so you can choose to go with economy or power. And regardless of what you think about people who drive big brutish SUVs, that's what drives our society ... individual choice. So to recap - the BMW X6 makes a lot of sense as a hybrid, but it doesn't make a lot of sense as a hybrid sport utility. I'd much rather see this drivetrain on an X5. joe.duarte@sunmedia.ca

Fact file: 2011 Ford Explorer

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Report card (out of 5)

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C Trim levels available: Base; XLT; Limited MSRP range: $29,999 - $44,199 Freight: $1,400 Notable options: Trailer tow pack; dual-panel moonroof; Blind Spot Info System with Cross Traffic Alert; reverse camera; DVD headrests, technology package. Confi guration: Front engine/ front- and all-wheel drive Available engines: 3.5L V6 (290 hp/255 lb.-ft.) Available transmissions: 6-spd automatic Fuel economy ratings (L/100km): 11.9 city/8.0 hwy (FWD); 12.5/8.8 (AWD) Warranties: Exp. 3 years/ 60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain) Competitors: Honda Pilot; Jeep Cherokee; Nissan Murano; Toyota Highlander Strengths: Superb styling; userfriendly technologies; lots of space Weaknesses: Fuel economy should be better; perhaps a bit too large for a mid-size

Report card (out of 5)

Value for $: 3.5 - Useful standard features galore but costs more Styling: 4.5 - upscale looks of a Range Rover for less money Comfort: 4.0 - Cavernous interior offers lots of passenger and cargo space Performance: 3.5 - Needs more oomph Overall: 4.0 - A solid 21st Century Explorer

Fact file: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

Price as tested (before taxes): $108,150 Options on test vehicle: Executive package ($5,500) inc. soft close doors, rear view camera, head-up display, satellite radio; rear entertainment system ($1,950); running boards ($800) Freight/PDI: $1,995 Confi guration: Front engine/allwheel drive Engine/transmission: 4.4L turbo V8/ 8-spd auto with sequential shift Power/torque: Net 480 hp/ 575 lb.-ft. Fuel (capacity): Premium (85L) Fuel economy ratings: 12.5 L/100 km city; 10.3 L/100 km hwy. Observed fuel economy: 11.4 L/100 km over 810 km Warranties: 4 years/ 80,000 km (comprehensive) Competitors: Cadillac Escalade Hybrid; GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid; Porsche Cayenne Hybrid Strengths: Handling; acceleration Weaknesses: High price; tight rear room; limited cargo space Fuel Economy: 2.5 - excellent for this vehicle size, but still not great Value for $: 2 - price makes you wonder why bother with gas saving technology Styling: 4 - one of the bestlookers on the market Comfort: 2 - anything back of the front seats is not utilitarian Performance: 4 - fits right into the BMW stable Overall: 3 - makes sense as a hybrid but not as a sport ute

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