No, it's not a joke. This is the 2011 Ford Explorer. But, built on the same not-at-all-off-road-ready platform that birthed the Ford Taurus and Ford Flex, it's just not an SUV.
This is not your father's Ford Explorer. For starters, gone is a V8 engine option and in its place is an I-4 EcoBoost engine and a 3.5-liter V6. And then underneath the plastic lies an all-new car-like frame. Yup, it's yet another crossover. But, despite this all-new unibody design (rather than the body-on-frame construction that capably held the Explorer's sheet metal for over 20 years), Ford's marketing savants claim the new Explorer is still targeted at traditional SUV buyers, even going so far as to trot out Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas to claim the new Explorer is "Reinventing the SUV for the 21st century."
Which is to say, it's "reinventing SUVs" for soccer moms who "want to ride up high," "want to feel safe in a big car" and "are fucking clueless about what makes a good SUV." In that, it appears as though Ford will likely succeed. But that's not our problem. Ford's trying to make a buck. That's fine by us. No, our biggest problem we've got is that Ford's taken a name with a heritage and used it in a completely un-historical way, thus betraying it. If Ford's willing to call the Explorer an SUV imagine what happens when they realize the next Ford Flex should really be called the Ford Bronco. It's a slippery slope.
But to take a slippery (and rocky) slope, a vehicle's got to have some real off-road chops. In that it looks as though Ford's likely failed miserably. There's no transfer case acting as the four-wheel-drive system's linchpin and despite a "Terrain Management" system (no idea what "4WD" system they've got under there — the Flex and Taurus only have an AWD system) controlled by a knob system like Land Rover, it's not a vehicle meant for off-roading. Look at those low-rolling-resistance tires, the huge wheels and side-cladding and front air dam. This is nothing more than a Ford Flex with new body panels. To think otherwise is fooling yourself and it means Ford PR's done their job.
See, rather than creating a new name (what, did Ford Marketing run out of names that start with the letter "F?" If so, we've got one that's four letters long we think'll work just fine), they'll be using the Explorer name plastered on the side of this new crossover they're calling an SUV. The reality is the Ford Explorer is dead. Long live the plastic-clad crossover.
We'll see it live in person later this morning, but somehow we doubt Ford PR will be able to change our minds. Want to find more info on this example of platform prostitution? Go here.